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December 26, 2020

The future of the operating system

As you know from last month’s email, in the coming year, I will begin publishing my research into the future of the operating system. To get things started, let’s back up: why?

The personal computer of today is filled with others’ objectives. You kind of have to wade through all of those other competing objectives to get after your own. There’s nothing personal about the personal computer of today.

As we use our personal computers, there are inherent obstacles to getting our best work done each day — but they shouldn’t be inherent. They shouldn’t exist at all. Our best work may often be a challenge, but the tools we use should not increase that challenge; they should make it easier to engage with what truly matters.

Here’s an example: The operating systems we use today are based on the interface paradigm known as WIMP — Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers. But is this the best way to interact with our things? So often the things we want to use are stuck inside their own separate windows — a PDF over here, a link over there, an email in the email client, and a related event over in the calendar. But if these things all relate, why are they stuck in their own siloed apps? Why do we have to keep tracking all of them down every time we need to reference them? In practice, over time, it can quickly become a cumbersome mess.

Just over a year and a half ago, I started to ask myself these questions —

What should the operating system of the future look like? Who should be in charge of building it? How can personal computing push past its current limitations?

This research explores new and newly refined ideas for what the operating system allows users to do. Reimagining the operating system — not kernels and drivers, but the user environment — is my current research area, and this work is in active development.

In 2021, I will send you updates on this research. One week from today, on January 2, I’ll send you the first of my Lab Notes, in which I will share new thinking on how the operating system of the future might work, along with some demos, and occasionally experiments you can try out for yourself.

To lay the foundation, I’ve published an introduction to this research.

To read the intro, click below:

​Read the introduction to: The future of the operating system​

Happy Holidays, and I hope we get to embark on an insight- and curiosity-filled 2021 together!

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