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The slow rise of the SoMoClo OS

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Even at first glance, one can see that Apple’s new desktop operating system, OS X Mountain Lion, is unifying the user experience across its different devices and platforms. Common applications and modes of interaction such as reminders, notes and the new notifications and Game Center are part of that effort, as my colleague Erica Ogg writes. And if Apple stopped at that, it would be pretty impressive.

But the new Mountain Lion OS X is a step in the right direction for what the operating system (OS) for the Internet Age should be. Up until a few years ago, the Internet was a feature on our desktops, accessed through the browser and used for finding information. Along came broadband, and we all suddenly realized the Internet could be used for a lot more than just looking up facts and figures.

Today the Internet is how we do (almost) everything. Our phone calls are made using Skype. We video chat over Google Hangouts, and we communicate via Facebook, Twitter and iMessage. Twitter is the new Associated Press. Vimeo is our PBS, and YouTube and Hulu are the new broadcast networks. Amazon is the mall and iTunes is our Virgin Megastore. Pandora is our radio and Spotify is our jukebox.

It doesn’t matter whether we use Windows, Mac, Linux, Android or iOS: We can do all the things we like to do as long as the Internet is there. And if the growing popularity of apps is any indication, even a browser isn’t necessary. The Internet is what matters. From my perspective, the desktop OS of today needs to be built with that reality in mind. Let’s call this the SoMoClo operating system, where SoMoClo stands for social + mobile + cloud.

1. Social + sharing

If uptick in sharing photos, links and videos on Facebook and Twitter is any indication, social sharing has become integral to our daily experience. Mark Zuckerberg put it best in Facebook’s S-1 filing when he wrote:

Today, our society has reached another tipping point. We live at a moment when the majority of people in the world have access to the Internet or mobile phones — the raw tools necessary to start sharing what they’re thinking, feeling and doing with whomever they want.

2. Mobile

The breathtaking jump in the sales of smartphones and tablets such as the iPhone and iPad, along with hypnotizing demand for mobile apps, are some signs that we are fast becoming a mobile-first society.

Let’s just face it: Today we use our smartphones and tablets more often during our day; thus behaviors that are specific to mobile are now going mainstream. How many times have you wanted to touch your laptop screen and bring up an app?

Notifications are another mobile-first behavior that makes sense on our desktops. Mobile has also forced us to appreciate simple but highly effective applications such as notes, list makers or group messaging. So it is no surprise that these behaviors and apps are migrating into the desktop OS.

3. The cloud

And now comes the most important aspect of the new operating system: the cloud. For the longest time, our desktops were a way to get onto the network, but now the desktop lives on the network. Back in Nov. 2011, I wrote a post titled “When will broadband finally kill local storage?”:

Today, there is very little need for me to have any in-home storage. My documents live in Dropbox and Google Office. My photos get backed up to iCloud. Radio comes from Pandora. On-demand music comes from Spotify. Movies come from Netflix. TV comes from Hulu. The home phone is Skype. And for everything else, there’s Amazon. The lesson of the story? If you have a fast enough broadband connection, you don’t need hard drives.

In a few years, as broadband gets faster, there is no doubt in my mind that my online usage patterns are going to be mainstream. From that perspective, the desktop OS of today (and tomorrow) needs to have deep hooks into the cloud — ones that go beyond the browser.

SoMoClo OS or cloud OS

When I think of today’s connected life, I see two distinct approaches to operating environments: OSes that are desktop-specific and the one OS that is a true cloud OS, for a dedicated cloud client. Back in 2008, I wrote about what makes a cloud client and asked our community to weigh in. One of them, Tashi Levent-Levi wrote:

Such a computer needs to come with a different software suite and a different kind of a user interface. As the working habits and behavior of people with it will be different, so does the applications running and the way they are used will be different.

Phones and PCs today are good comparisons — their computing power is used differently and the way we interact with their application is different. As the cloud computer is a new type of a machine that fits new habits — it should have its own usage model.

At that time, the iPad and Amazon Kindle Fire had not been introduced. But both Apple, with iOS, and Amazon, with its Kindle Fire, have developed a true cloud OS. These are for a tablet that is essentially a mobile device and is meant to be used anywhere and anytime.

The desktop OS of today (and tomorrow) is a little different. It needs to pay attention to a computer’s legacy and its user interface — keyboards and mice and touchpads. It has to worry about file systems, documents, windows and the traditional hierarchies. The transition from PC to tablets is going to take a long time, and as a result we need an OS to ferry us to the new tablet-centric world. Apple CEO Tim Cook talked about this recently, as Tom Krazit on our sister site, paidContent writes:

Still, Cook doesn’t think the iPad will lead to the death of the personal computer as we’ve known it for the past 25 years or so. “I don’t predict the demise of the PC industry, I don’t subscribe to that,” he said, although admitting that tablet sales were eating into Mac sales and were likely having the same effect on the PC industry, which is essentially stagnant. It seems pretty clear that Cook thinks of the iPad as a different product from the PC/Mac, unlike some industry observers who would prefer to lump the two together.

Something like Mountain Lion is a great middle ground, a great first new SoMoClo OS.

30 Responses to “The slow rise of the SoMoClo OS”

  1. Om,
    I can’t really agree with the social part here. What part of the operating system has to be social?
    Mobile – sure – there’s battery life, location, context, inputs and other aspects to deal with.
    Cloud – definitely – there are a lot of low level cloud services that make the OS better – push notifications, software upgrades, app store and a few others.
    But social?

  2. Antonio Dueñas Rodriguez

    I still feel really uncomfortable with apps.I rather a browser.That’s why I don’t understand this tablet-mania some people has.And 3G and 4G connections suck,so I think desktop PC will still be the best option for a while.

  3. Digital Dazzle

    SoMoClo is not just a problem for the Enterprise, but also for the creative types of the world. While Apple is expected to keep around powerful enough hardware for creatives (high-end iMacs and Mac Book Pro), what has me worried is the OS. The more it becomes “locked down” and focused on SoMoClo, the less usable it becomes. Let’s face it, the App Store does not cut it for creatives – we rely on third party software and control, such as being able to go back to a previous version, if the current version is buggy…

  4. MobileAberdeen

    Om, thank you for bringing attention to the hot topic of SoMoClo. It’s both a meme and a converged IT construct that Aberdeen Group has been speaking, researching, and writing about for over 6 months. To access Aberdeen’s latest research on SoMoClo business value and best practices, please visit .

  5. Om, great post. But I have a simple question – how ready is the “cloud” (for example Apple’s Documents in the Cloud) when it comes to security and privacy i.e. HIPAA? Are you really prepared to save your medical records to iCloud? DropBox? Google Docs? If so, then you’re putting a lot of care and trust into these guys. After the Path “scandal” where its been revealed that the Apple Developer APIs did not think through the importance Address Book data (and hence did not preempt the Paths of the world by requiring them to force a window on the iOS device asking for explicit permission to access the Address Book’s contents), what types of things has Apple (which usually doesn’t have imagination deficit problems) not yet preemptively thought through such as with respect to iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud? Do you use iCloud to store your Calendar and Address Book data now? Medical and financial records tomorrow? Food for thought …

  6. All of you deep-thinkers and trend-makers who live in densely populated areas and have enough disposable income to afford always-on unlimited-data plans for multiple devices are amusing sometimes. SoMoClo stands for Social+Mobile+Cloud but out in the sticks (the vast area of the US), that becomes SloMoClo — for Slow+Motion+Cloud. Also: be prepared to be laughed at in German-speaking areas. “Clo” is short for “Closett” meaning toilet (translated from the British ‘water closet’).

  7. @Safari lovers, if it works for you, more power to you. For me latest SL, 2.4 Ghz, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB ram, Chrome is much, much faster.

    But Chrome v Safari wasn’t my primary point. My primary point is that Apple’s latest Mac OS, i.e. Lion is a piece of junk. Mountain Lion appears to be headed in the same direction, i.e. lots of cute bells and whistles but very little added benefit — and probably given Lion’s problems, built in the same crappy way. This reminds me of a lot of Windows bad releases.

  8. gah, I wish they would fix the useability of the OS before adding in these teeny bopper features. I’d love it if they copied aero snap, they need to fix their DPI, or rather the lack of changing DPI on their high resolution displays, especially if we are getting retina laptop displays. Their taskbar is horrid, I have no idea how people accept this, file management is unintuitive at best, the list can go on and on. OSx really really needs a UI overhaul. Lion was a complete waste of money and it looks like they are continuing in this direction.

  9. It’s interesting to note that Cook doesn’t think that tablets are going to lead to the demise of the PC. I think quite the contrary, except maybe in a work setting, but that is also changing a lot with the cloud explosion.

  10. While conceptually interesting, Apple has failed to make even Lion work reasonably well without some real bugs that truly piss users off. (If wonder if I’m joking take a look at the Apple community section of Lion.) As a happy Snow Leopard user, I’m really glad I didn’t switch. Now with the code barely stable in Lion, presto Apple comes up with Mountain Lion? No thank you, Apple. I actually depend on the Mac to do real work.

    Re Safari, it’s an absolute slow snail of a browser compared with Chrome.

    With these poor desktop software, Apple seems totally focused on iOS, i.e. the iPhone and iPad to the detriment and sacrifice of the Mac.

    Apple seems to be devoting all its resources to

    • “Re Safari, it’s an absolute slow snail of a browser compared with Chrome.”
      I’m also in Snow Leopard, and I notice very little speed difference between the two. What I do see, is regular crashes in Chrome, and none in Safari. At least 2 or 3 a day.

      • Allen Cross

        ‘At least 2 or 3 (crashes) a day’ Chrome? I’d say there’s something wrong with your install, your Mac…or you. :-)

        I’ve been using Chrome on my aging iMac since 2010. Although the machine’s fan occasionally moans under the heavy load of several dozen tabs plus multiple instances of Flash, I’ve seen only a handful of crashes, per year. And Google iterates like mad; noteworthy glitches tend to disappear quickly and without fuss.

        Safari — well, that’s another matter, entirely. Every time I try it, I can’t believe how slow it boots, even with no legacy tabs. On my iMac, performance is clearly sub-par — even compared to IE (!) — and patches tend to be even slower in coming. Utility is further compromised by the relative dearth of extensions vs Chrome and Fireox.

    • >Re Safari, it’s an absolute slow snail of a browser compared with Chrome.

      I’ve got lots of Macs in my home, but only two have Intel processors. Oops, Chrome doesn’t support PPC.

      On the two that do have Intel processors, I’ve done my own, informal speed tests. Chrome is WAY slower than Safari.

      Add to that the fact that Chrome doesn’t even support RSS folders (and typing in the direct URL to an individual RSS feed does a Google search), and it’s obvious who’s got the better browser.

      Sorry, tortoro. If you like Chrome, more power to you, but I keep coming back to Safari.

  11. I find it odd that all of the “revolutionary” work that got unveiled in Mountain Lion and more was unveiled in Windows 8 at Build last September. I don’t recall seeing any of the same breathless adulation like “the first true internet OS” and the like…

  12. sachinuppal

    I agree with Eric’s comment, Google started this with Chrome OS, though somehow the Apple Marketing dogs bark louder. Anyhow, in the geography where I am situated, 256 KBps is the Govt. mandated broadband speed, so not sure if I should be happy or sad about these developments.

    • “Google started this with Chrome OS”

      Right. It was really Google that brought the Personal Computer to the world, and Google that brought the graphical user interface to the world. And Desktop Publishing, with the LaserWriter. And Ouicktime. And then the iMac brought the world online. Then the Digital Hub and iTunes. The iPod. Then a way to make it all mobile with the iPhone. Then the iPad so that even your grandmother and your 2 year old could communicate with each other. Actually Apple did it all, and Microsoft, then Google, copied it all.

  13. S. Eric Rhoads

    I find it amazing that Google can espouse this very philosophy via Chrome OS and get nothing but odd looks. Apple integrates a few cloud features and suddenly the “Cloud OS” future is upon us. To me Apple is playing catch up in this arena. Google has been evangelizing this approach for years. Heck, even Microsoft is further ahead than Apple here…but both were largely ignored or scoffed at.

    • Chrome OS is about point click, discrete events with files moved onto the Web. Desktop with a web backend. Apple is working on conversational dialog which requires context.

      • Well said Ron. OSXs software suite is geared toward expression and touch is so close to an articulated language. Chrome books are also incredibly limited. An iPad is a more capable software environment. Om is always the most clear with his trend line. I don’t expect any different from his vision on Mtn Lions place because lion was baby steps interface wise.

    • Ram Kanda

      Chrome OS is everything in a browser. It’s a window into the Internet. Apple’s OS is app based. Taps letting bits of internet into your machine. You espouse the advantages of local code for speed and elegance and have hooks into the internet for the information. Google knows Apple was on the right track when Android was successful and Chrome is not.

    • Travis Henning

      Nearly everything Apple does expands and improves on something that already exists. Nomad MP3 Player -> iPod, Blackberry -> iPhone, Windows Tablet -> iPad. This cloud/OS integration is the same thing. Google (actually Sun/Oracle) may have come up with a thin client solution, but Google’s implementation hasn’t been seen as very useful by the majority of users. What Apple has done is taken the best of both worlds, desktop applications and cloud based integration and combined them in such a way that users will probably find more comfortable to use and thus find value in it. Obviously it remains to be seen how users will respond, but because of the relatively seamless integration, I think it will be a hit.