OReilly_InternetOperatingSystem_2010.03x - Weigend

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Feb 2, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)

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Reading for “The Digital Networked Economy” (Andreas Weigend)


Part 1:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/03/state
-
of
-
internet
-
operating
-
system.html

Part 2:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/04/handicapping
-
internet
-
platform
-
wars.html


The State of the Internet Operating System

by

Tim O'Reilly

|

@timoreilly

|



I've been talking for years about "
the internet operating system
", but I realized I've never written an
extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we fac
e. This is that
missing post. Here you will see the underlying beliefs about the future that are guiding my

publishing
program

as well as the rationale behind conferences I organize like the

Web 2.0 Summit

and

Web 2.0
Expo
, the
Where 2.0 Conference
, and even the

Gov 2.0 Summit

and

Gov 2.0 Expo
.

Ask yourself for a moment, what is the operating system of a Google or Bing search? What is the
operating system of a mobile phone call? What is the operating system of maps and directions on your
phone? What is the operating system of a
tweet?

On a standalone computer, operating systems like Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux manage the machine's
resources, making it possible for applications to focus on the job they do for the user. But many of the
activities that are most important to us toda
y take place in a mysterious space

between

individual
machines. Most people take for granted that these things just work, and complain when the daily
miracle of instantaneous communications and access to information breaks down for even a moment.

But peel
back the covers and remember that there is an enormous, worldwide technical infrastructure
that is enabling the always
-
on future that we rush thoughtlessly towards.

When you type a search query into Google, the resources on your local computer
-

the keyboa
rd where
you type your query, the screen that displays the results, the networking hardware and software that
connects your computer to the network, the browser that formats and forwards your request to
Google's servers
-

play only a small role. What's mor
e, they don't really matter much to the operation of
the search
-

you can type your search terms into a browser on a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, or
into a smartphone running Symbian, or PalmOS, the Mac OS, Android, Windows Mobile, or some other
phone o
perating system.

The resources that are critical to this operation are mostly somewhere else: in Google's massive server
farms, where proprietary Google software farms out your request (one of millions of simultaneous
requests) to some subset of Google's s
ervers, where proprietary Google software processes a massive
index to return your results in milliseconds.

Then there's the IP routing software on each system between you and Google's data center (you didn't
think you were directly connected to Google did

you?), the majority of it running on Cisco equipment;
the mostly open source Domain Name System, a network of lookup servers that not only allowed your
computer to connect to google.com in the first place (rather than typing an IP address like
74.125.19.1
06), but also steps in to help your computer access whatever system out there across the
net holds the web pages you are ultimately looking for; the protocols of the web itself, which allow
browsers on client computers running any local operating system (p
erhaps we'd better call it a

bag of
device drivers
) to connect to servers running any other operating system.

You might argue that Goo
gle search is just an application that happens to run on a massive computing
cluster, and that at bottom, Linux is still the operating system of that cluster. And that the internet
and web stacks are simply a software layer implemented by both your local c
omputer and remote
applications like Google.

But wait. It gets more interesting. Now consider doing that Google search on your phone, using Google's
voice search capability. You speak into your phone, and Google's speech recognition service translates
the
sound of your voice into text, and passes that text on to the search engine
-

or, on an Android
phone, to any other application that chooses to listen. Someone familiar with speech recognition on
the PC might think that the translation is happening on the
phone, but no, once again, it's happening
on Google's servers. But wait. There's more. Google improves the accuracy of its speech recognition by
comparing what the speech algorithms think you said with what its search system (think "
Google
suggest
") expects you were most likely to say. Then, because your phone knows where you are, Google
filters the results to find those most relevant to your
location.

Your phone knows where you are.

How does it do that? "It's got a GPS receiver," is the facile answer.
But if it has a GPS receiver, that means your phone is getting its position information by reaching out to
a network of satellites originally pu
t up by the US military. It may also be getting additional
information from your mobile carrier that speeds up the GPS location detection. It may instead be
using "cell tower triangulation" to measure your distance from the nearest cellular network towers,

or
even doing a lookup from a database that maps wifi hotspots to GPS coordinates. (These databases
have been created by driving every street and noting the location and strength of every Wi
-
Fi signal.)
The iPhone relies on the
Skyhook Wireless

service to perform these lookups; Google has its own
equivalent, doubtless created at the same time as it created the imagery for

Google Streetview
.

But which
ever technique is being used, the application is relying on network
-
available facilities, not
just features of your phone itself. And increasingly, it's hard to claim that all of these intertwined
features are simply an application, even when they are prov
ided by a single company, like Google.

Keep following the plot. What mobile app (other than casual games) exists solely on the phone?
Virtually every application is a network application, relying on remote services to perform its function.

Where is the "op
erating system" in all this? Clearly, it is still evolving. Applications use a hodgepodge of
services from multiple different providers to get the information they need.

But how different is this from PC application development in the early 1980s, when eve
ry application
provider wrote their own device drivers to support the hodgepodge of disks, ports, keyboards, and
screens that comprised the still emerging personal computer ecosystem? Along came Microsoft with an
offer that was difficult to refuse: We'll m
anage the drivers; all application developers have to do is
write software that uses the Win32 APIs, and all of the complexity will be abstracted away.

It was. Few developers write device drivers any more. That is left to device manufacturers, with all the

messiness hidden by "operating system vendors" who manage the updates and often provide generic
APIs for entire classes of device. Those vendors who took on the pain of managing complexity ended up
with a powerful lock
-
in. They created the context in whic
h applications have worked ever since.

This is the crux of my argument about the internet operating system. We are once again approaching
the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will
go away. And
much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that
promise. We're entering a modern version of "
the Great Game
", the rivalry to control the narrow passes
to the promised

future of computing. (John Battelle calls them "
points of control
".) This rivalry is seen
most acutely in mobile applications that rely on internet serv
ices as back
-
ends. As Nick Bilton of the
New York Times described it in

a recent article comparing the Google Nexus One and the iPhone
:

Chad Dickerson, ch
ief technology officer of Etsy, received a pre
-
launch Nexus One from Google three
weeks ago. He says Google's phone feels connected to certain services on the Web in a way the iPhone
doesn't. "Compared to the iPhone, the Google phone feels like it's part o
f the Internet to me," he said.
"If you live in a Google world, you have that world in your pocket in a way that's cleaner and more
connected than the iPhone."

The same thing applies to the iPhone. If you're a MobileMe, iPhoto, iTunes or Safari user, the i
Phone
connects effortlessly to your pictures, contacts, bookmarks and music. But if you use other services,
you sometimes need to find software workarounds to get access to your content.

In comparison, with the Nexus One, if you use GMail, Google Calendar
or Picasa, Google's online photo
storage software, the phone connects effortlessly to these services and automatically syncs with a
single log
-
in on the phone.

The phones work perfectly with their respective software, but both of them don't make an effort
to
play nice with other services.

Never mind the technical details of whether the Internet really has an operating system or not. It's
clear that in mobile, we're being presented with a choice of

platforms

that goes far beyond the
operating system on the h
andheld device itself.

With that preamble, let's take a look at the state of the Internet Operating System
-

or rather,
competing Internet Operating Systems
-

as they exist today.

The Internet Operating System is an Information Operating System

Among many
other functions, a traditional operating system coordinates access by applications to the
underlying resources of the machine
-

things like the CPU, memory, disk storage, keyboard and screen.
The operating system kernel schedules processes, allocates memor
y, manages interrupts from devices,
handles exceptions, and generally makes it possible for multiple applications to share the same
hardware.

As a result, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that "cloud computing" platforms like Amazon Web
Services, Google

App Engine, or Microsoft Azure, which provide developers with access to storage and
computation, are the heart of the emerging Internet Operating System.

Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake
as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI
-
based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren't part of the "real" operating system, but
just another application
-
level construct. But even thoug
h for years, Windows was just a thin shell over
DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to
making applications easier to use.

But what are these higher levels of abstraction? Are they just features that
hide the details of virtual
machines in the cloud, insulating the developer from managing scaling or hiding details of 1990s
-
era
operating system instances in cloud virtual machines?

The underlying services accessed by applications today are not just devic
e components and operating
system features, but

data subsystems
: locations, social networks, indexes of web sites, speech
recognition, image recognition, automated translation. It's easy to think that it's the sensors in your
device
-

the touch screen, the

microphone, the GPS, the magnetometer, the accelerometer
-

that are
enabling their cool new functionality. But really, these sensors are just inputs to massive data
subsystems living in the cloud.

When, for example, as an iPhone developer, you use the iPh
one's Core Location Framework to establish
the phone's location, you aren't just querying the sensor, you're doing a cloud data lookup against the
results, transforming GPS coordinates into street addresses, or perhaps transforming WiFi signal
strength int
o GPS coordinates, and then into street addresses. When the Amazon app or Google Goggles
scans a barcode, or the cover of a book, it isn't just using the camera with onboard image processing,
it's passing the image to much more powerful image processing in

the cloud, and then doing a database
lookup on the results.

Increasingly, application developers don't do low
-
level image recognition, speech recognition, location
lookup, social network management and friend connect. They place high level function calls
to data
-
rich platforms that provide these services.

With that in mind, let's consider what new subsystems a "modern" Internet Operating System might
contain:

Search

Because the volume of data to be managed is so large, because it is constantly changing, an
d because
it is distributed across millions of networked systems, search proved to be the first great challenge of
the Internet OS era. Cracking the search problem requires massive, ongoing crawling of the network,
the construction of massive indexes, and
complex algorithmic retrieval schemes to find the most
appropriate results for a user query. Because of the complexity, only a few vendors have succeeded
with web search, most notably Google and Microsoft. Yahoo! and Amazon too built substantial web
search

capabilities, but have largely left the field to the two market leaders.

However, not all search is as complex as web search. For example, an e
-
commerce site like Amazon
doesn't need to constantly crawl other sites to discover their products; it has a mor
e constrained
retrieval problem of finding only web pages that it manages itself. Nonetheless, search is fractal, and
search infrastructure is replicated again and again at many levels across the internet. This suggests
that there are future opportunities
in harnessing distributed, specialized search engines to do more
complete crawls than can be done by any single centralized player. For example, Amazon harnesses
data visible only to them, such as the rate of sales, as well as data they publish, such as th
e number
and value of customer reviews, in ranking the most popular products.

In addition to web search, there are many specialized types of media search. For example, any time
you put a music CD into an internet
-
connected drive, it immediately looks up th
e track names
in

CDDB

using a kind of fingerprint produced by the length and sequence of each of the tracks on the
CD. Other types of music search, like the one used by cell phone applications like

Shazam
, look up
songs by matching their actual

acoustic fingerprint
. Meanwhile, Pandora's "
music genome project
" finds
similar songs via a complex of hundreds of different factors as analyzed by professional musicians.

Many of the search techniques developed for web pages rely on th
e rich implied semantics of linking, in
which

every link is a vote
, and votes from authoritative sources are ranked more highly than others.
This is a kind of implicit user
-
contributed metadata that is
not present when searching other types of
content, such as digitized books. There, search remains in the same brute
-
force dark ages as web
search before Google. We can expect significant breakthroughs in search techniques for books, video,
images, and soun
d to be a feature of the future evolution of the Internet OS.

The techniques of algorithmic search are an essential part of the developer's toolkit today. The O'Reilly
book

Programming Collective Int
elligence

reviews many of the algorithms and techniques. But there's
no question that this kind of low
-
level programming is ripe for a higher
-
level solution, in which
developers just place a call to a search service, and return the results. Thus, search mo
ves from
application to system call.

Media Access

Just as a PC
-
era operating system has the capability to manage user
-
level constructs like files and
directories as well as lower
-
level constructs like physical disk volumes and blocks, an Internet
-
era
opera
ting system must provide access to various types of media, such as web pages, music, videos,
photos, e
-
books, office documents, presentations, downloadable applications, and more. Each of these
media types requires some common technology infrastructure bey
ond specialized search:



Access Control.

Since not all information is freely available, managing access control
-

providing
snippets rather than full sources, providing streaming but not downloads, recognizing authorized users
and giving them a different re
sult from unauthorized users
-

is a crucial feature of the Internet OS.
(Like it or not.)

The recent moves by News Corp to place their

newspapers behind

a paywall
, as well as the paid
application and content marketplace of the iPhone and iPad suggests that the ability to manage access
to content is going to be more important, rather than less, in the years ahead. We're largely past the
knee
-
jerk "keep it
off the net" reactions of old school DRM; companies are going to be exploring more
nuanced ways to control access to content, and the platform provider that has the most robust systems
(and consumer expectations) for paid content is going to be in a very s
trong position.

In the world of the App Store, paid applications and paid content are re
-
legitimizing access control
(and payment.) Don't assume that advertising will continue to be the only significant way to monetize
internet content in the years ahead.



Caching
. Large media files benefit from being closer to their destination. A whole class of companies
exist to provide

Content Delivery Networks
; these may survive as independent
companies, or these
services may ultimately be rolled up into the leading Internet OS companies in much the way that
Microsoft acquired or "embraced and extended" various technologies on the way to making Windows the
dominant OS of the PC era.



Instrumentat
ion and analytics

Because of the amount of money at stake, an entire industry has grown
up around web analytics and search engine optimization. We can expect a similar wave of companies
instrumenting social media and mobile applications, as well as particu
lar media types. After all, a
video, a game, or an ebook can know how long you watch, when you abandon the product and where
you go next.

Expect these features to be pushed first by independent companies, like

TweetStats

or

Peoplebrowsr
Analytics

for Twitter, or

Flurry

for mobile apps.

GoodData
, a cloud
-
based business intelligence platform
is be
ing used for analytics on everything from Salesforce applications to online games. (Disclosure: I am
an investor and on the board of GoodData.) But eventually, via acquisition or imitation, they will
become part of the major platforms.

Communications

The i
nternet is a communications network, and it's easy to forget that communications technologies
like email and chat, have long been central to the Internet's appeal. Now, with the widespread
availability of VoIP, and with the mobile phone joining the "networ
k of networks," voice and video
communications are an increasingly important part of the communications subsystem.

Communications providers from the Internet world are now on a collision course with communications
providers from the telephony world. For
now, there are uneasy alliances right and left. But it isn't
going to be pretty once the battle for control comes out into the open.

I expect the communications directory service to be one of the key battlefronts. Who will manage the
lookup service that al
lows individuals and businesses to find and connect to each other? The phone and
email address books will eventually merge with the data from social networks to provide a rich set of
identity infrastructure services.

Identity and the Social Graph

When you
use Facebook Connect to log into another application, and suddenly your friends' faces are
listed in the new application, that application is using Facebook as a "subsystem" of the new Internet
OS. On Android phones, simply add the Facebook application, an
d your phone address book shows the
photos of your Facebook friends. Facebook is

expanding the range of data revealed by Fa
cebook
Connect
; they clearly understand the potential of Facebook as a platform for more than hosted
applications.

But as hinted at above, there are other rich sources of social data
-

and I'm not just talking about
applications like Twitter that include e
xplicit social graphs. Every communications provider owns a
treasure trove of social data. Microsoft has piles of social data locked up in Exchange, Outlook,
Hotmail, Active Directory, and Sharepoint. Google has social data not just from Orkut (an also
-
ran

in
the US) but from Gmail and Google Docs, whose "sharing" is another name for "meaningful source of
workgroup
-
level social graph data." And of course, now, there's the social graph data produced by the
address book on every Android phone...

The breakthro
ughs that we need to look forward to may not come from explicitly social applications. In
fact, I see "me too" social networking applications from those who have other sources of identity data
as a sign that they don't really understand the platform opport
unity. Building a social network to rival
Facebook or Twitter is far less important to the future of the Internet platform than creating facilities
that will allow third
-
party developers to leverage the social data that companies like Google,
Microsoft, Ya
hoo!, AOL
-

and phone companies like ATT, Verizon and T
-
Mobile
-

have produced through
years or even decades of managing user's social data for communications.

Of course, use of this data will require breakthroughs in privacy mechanism and policy. As Nat
T
orkington wrote in email after reviewing an earlier draft of this post:

We still face the problem of "friend": my Docs social graph is different from my email social graph is
different from my Facebook social graph is different from my address book. I want

to be able to
complain about work to my friends without my coworkers seeing it, and the usability
-
vs
-
privacy
problem remains unsolved.

Whoever cracks this code, providing frameworks that make it possible for applications to be
functionally social without
being socially promiscuous, will win. Platform providers are in a good
position to solve this problem once, so that users don't have to give credentials to a larger and larger
pool of application providers, with little assurance that the data they provide
won't be misused.

Payment

Payment is another key subsystem of the Internet Operating System. Companies like Apple that have
150 million credit cards on file and a huge population of users accustomed to using their phones to buy
songs, videos, applications,

and now ebooks, are going to be in a prime position to turn today's phone
into tomorrow's wallet. (And as anyone who reaches into a wallet not for payment but for ID knows,
payment systems are also powerful, authenticated identity stores
-

a fact that won
't always be lost on
payment providers looking for their lock on a piece of the Internet future.)

PayPal obviously plays an important role as an internet payment subsystem that's already in wide use
by developers. It operates in 190 countries, in 24 differ
ent currencies (not counting in
-
game micro
-
currencies) and it has over 210 million accounts (with 81 million of them active). What's fascinating is
the rich developer ecosystem they've built around payment
-

their recent developer conference had
over 2000
attendees. Their challenge is to make the transition from the web to mobile.

Google Checkout has been a distant also
-
ran in web payments, but the Android Market has given it new
prominence in mobile, and will eventually make it a first class internet payme
nt subsystem.

Amazon too has a credible payment offering, though until recently they haven't deployed it to full
effect, reserving the best features for their own e
-
commerce site and not making them available to
developers. (More on that in next week's pos
t, in which I will handicap the leading platform offerings
from major internet vendors.)

Advertising

Advertising has been the most successful business model on the web. While there are signs that

e
-
commerce

-

buying everything from virtual goods to

a lunchtime burrito

-

may be the bigger
opportunity in mobile (and perhaps even in
social media), there's no question that advertising will play
a significant role.

Google's dominance of search advertising has involved better algorithmic placement, as well as the
ability to predict, in real time, how often an ad will be clicked on, allow
ing them to optimize the
advertising yield. The

Google Ad Auction

system is the heart of their economic value proposition, and
demonstrates just how much difference a te
chnical edge can make.

And advertising has always been a platform play. Signs that it will be a key battleground of the Internet
OS can be seen in the competing

acquisition of AdMob

by Google

and

Quattro Wireless

by Apple.

The question is the extent to which platform companies will use their advertising capabilities as a
system service. Will they treat
these assets as the source of competitive advantage for their own
products, or will they find ways to deploy advertising as a business model for developers on their
platform?

Location

Location is the sine
-
qua
-
non of mobile apps. When your phone knows where

you are, it can find your
friends, find services nearby, and even better authenticate a transaction.

Maps and directions on the phone are intrinsically cloud services
-

unlike with dedicated GPS devices,
there's not enough local storage to keep all the re
levant maps on hand. But when turned into a cloud
application, maps and directions can include other data, such as real
-
time traffic (indeed, traffic data
collected from the very applications that are requesting traffic updates
-

a classic example of
"coll
ective intelligence" at work.)

Location is also the search key for countless database lookup services, from Google's "search along
route" to a Yelp search for nearby cafes to the Chipotle app routing your lunch request to the
restaurant near you.

In many w
ays, Location is the Internet data subsystem that is furthest along in its development as a
system service accessible to all applications, with developers showing enormous creativity in using it in
areas from augmented reality to advertising. (Understandin
g that this would be the case, I launched
the

Where 2.0 Conference
in 2005. There are lessons to be learned in the location market for all
Internet entrepreneurs, not just "geo" geeks, as techniques developed h
ere will soon be applied in
many other areas.)

Activity Streams

Location is also becoming a proxy for something else: attention. The

originally designed for finding
spots where people are congregating, quickly became a focus for advertising, as merchants w
ere able
to discover and reward their most frequent customers. Now the idea of the check
-
in being "embraced
and extended" to show attention to virtual locations. As John Battelle put it the other day, "
My location
is a
box of cereal
." (Disclosure:

O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures

is an investor in Foursquare.)

We thus see convergence between Location and social media concepts like

Activity Streams
.
Platform
providers that understand and exploit this intersection will be in a stronger position than those who see
location only in traditional terms.

Time

Time is an important dimension of data driven services
-

at least as important as location, though as
yet less fully exploited. Calendars are one obvious application, but activity streams are also organized
as timelines; stock charts link up news stories w
ith spikes or drops in price. Time stamps can also be
used as a filter for other data types (as Google measures frequency of update in calculating search
results, or as an RSS feed or social activity stream organizes posts by recency.)

"Real time"
-

as in
the real
-
time search provided by Twitter, the "where am I now" pointer on a map,
the
automated replenishment of inventory at WalMart, or instant political polling

-

emphasize
s just how
much the future will belong to those who measure response time in milliseconds, or even
microseconds, rather than seconds, hours, or days. This

need for speed

is going to be a major driver of
platform services; individual applications will have difficulty keeping up.

Image and Speech Recognition

As I've written previously, one of the big differences since I first wrote

What is Web 2.0?
, my analy
sis of
how the Web as Platform was going to be dominated by data services built by network effects in user
-
contributed data, is that increasingly, the data is contributed by sensors. (John Battelle and I called
this trend

Web Squared
).

With the advent of smartphone apps like

Google Goggles

and the

Amazon e
-
commerce app
, which
deploy advanced image recognition to scan bar codes, book covers, album cover
s and more
-

not to
mention gaming platforms like Microsoft's still unreleased

Project Natal

and innovative startups
like
Affective Interfaces
, it's clear that computer vision is going to be an important part of the UI toolkit
for future developers. While there are good computer vision packages like

OpenCV

that can be
deployed locally for
robotics applications, as well as research projects like those competing in
the

DARPA Grand Challenge for automated vehicles
, for smartphone applications, image recognition,
like speech rec
ognition, happens in the cloud. Not only is there a wealth of compute cycles, there are
also vast databases of images for matching purposes. Picasa and Flickr are no longer just consumer
image sharing sites: they are vast repositories of tagged image data
that can be used to train
algorithms and filter results.

Government Data

Long before recent initiatives like

data.gov
, governments have been a key supplier of data for internet
applications. Everything from weather, maps, satellite imagery, G
PS positioning, and SEC filings to
crime reports have played an important role in successful internet applications. Now, government is
also a recipient of crowdsourced data from citizens. For example,

FixMyStreet

and

SeeClickFix

submit
311 reports to local governments
-

potholes that need filling, graffiti that needs repainting, streetlights
that are out. These applications have typically overloaded existing communications channel
s like email
and SMS, but there are now attempts to standardize an

Open311

web services protocol.

Now, a new flood of government data is being released, and the government is starting to see itself as
a platform provider,

providing facilities for private sector third parties to build applications. This idea
of

Government as a Platform

is a key focus of my advocacy about

Government

2.0
.

There is huge opportunity to apply the lessons of Web 2.0 and apply them to government data. Take
health care as an example. How might we improve our healthcare system if Medicare provided

a
feedback loop about costs and outcomes

analogous to the one that Google built for search keyword
advertising.

Anyone building internet data applications would be foolish to underestimate the role that
government
is going to play in this unfolding story, both as provider and consumer of data web services, and also as
regulator in key areas like privacy, access, and interstate commerce.

What About the Browser?

While I think that claims that

the browser itself is the new operating system

are as misguided as the
idea that it can be found solely in cloud infrastructure services, it is important to re
cognize that
control over front end interfaces is at least as important as back
-
end services. Companies like Apple
and Google that have substantial cloud services and a credible mobile platform play are in the catbird
seat in the platform wars of the next
decade. But the browser, and with it control of the PC user
experience, is also critical.

This is why Apple's iPad, Google's ChromeOS, and HTML 5 (plus initiatives like Google's

Native Client
)
are so i
mportant. Microsoft isn't far wrong in its cloud computing vision of "
Software Plus Services
." The
full operating system stack includes back end infrastructure, the data subsystems highlighted
in this
article, and rich front
-
ends.

Apple and Microsoft largely have visions of vertically integrated systems; Google's vision seems to be
for open source driving front end interfaces, while back end services are owned by Google. But in each
case, there'
s a major drive to own a front
-
end experience that favors each company's back
-
end
systems.

What's Still Missing

Even the most advanced Internet Operating System platforms are still missing many concepts that are
familiar to those who work with traditional
single
-
computer operating systems. Where is the executive?
Where is the memory management?

I believe that these functions are evolving at each of the cloud platforms. Tools like memcache or
mapreduce are the rough cloud equivalents of virtual memory or mul
tiprocessing features in a
traditional operating system. But they are only the beginning. Werner Vogels' post

Eventually
Consistent

highlights some of the hard technical

issues that will need to be solved for an internet
-
scale
operating system. There are many more.

But it's also clear that there are many opportunities to build higher level functionality that will be
required for a true Internet Operating System.

Might an
operating system of the future manage when and how data is collected about individuals,
what applications can access it, and how they might use it? Might it not automatically synchronize data
between devices and applications? Might it do automatic translat
ion, and automatic format conversion
between different media types? Might such an operating system do predictive analytics to collect or
locally cache data that it expects an individual user or device to need? Might such an operating system
do "garbage col
lection" not of memory pointers but of outdated data or spam? Might it not perform
credit checks before issuing payments and suspend activity for those who violate terms of service?

There is a great opportunity for developers with vision to build forward
-
l
ooking platforms that aim
squarely at our connected future, that provide applications running on any device with access to rich
new sources of intelligence and capability. The possibilities are endless. There will be many failed
experiments, many successes

that will be widely copied, a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and fierce
competition between companies with different strengths and weaknesses.


State of

the Internet Operating System Part Two: Handicapping the Internet
Platform Wars

by

Tim O'Reilly

|

@timoreilly

|

This post is Part Two of my

State of the Internet O
perating System
. If you haven't read

Part One
, you
should do so before reading this piece.

As I wrote last month, it is becoming increasingly clear that the internet
is becoming not just a
platform, but an operating system, an operating system that manages access by devices such as
personal computers, phones, and other personal electronics to cloud subsystems ranging from
computation, storage, and communications to loc
ation, identity, social graph, search, and payment.
The question is whether a single company will put together a single, vertically
-
integrated platform that
is sufficiently compelling to developers to enable the kind of lock
-
in we saw during the personal
c
omputer era, or whether, Internet
-
style, we will instead see services from multiple providers
horizontally integrated via open standards.

There are many competing contenders to the Internet Operating System throne. Amazon, Apple,
Facebook, Google, Microsof
t, and VMware all have credible platforms with strong developer
ecosystems. Then there is a collection of players with strong point solutions but no complete operating
system offering. Let's take them in alphabetical order.

Amazon

With the introduction in
2006 of S3, the Simple Storage Service, and EC2, the Elastic Compute Cloud,
Amazon electrified the computing world by, for the first time, offering a general
-
purpose cloud
computing platform with a business model that made it attractive to developers large

and small. An
ecosystem quickly grew up of companies providing developer and system
-
management tools.
Companies like
RightScale

provide higher level management
frameworks;

Engine
Yard

and

Heroku

provide Ruby
-
on
-
Rails based stacks that make it easy to use
familiar web tools to deploy applications against an Amazon back
-
end; the

Ubuntu Enterprise
Cl
oud

and

Eucalyptus

offer Amazon
-
compatible solutions.

A number of competitors, including Rackspace, Terremark, Joyent, GoGrid, and AppNexus are

going
head to
head with Amazon in providing cloud infrastructure services
. Many analysts are simply
handicapping these providers and comparing them to offerings from Microsoft and Google. But to
compare only cloud infrastructure providers is to miss the point. It's a bi
t like leaving out Microsoft
while comparing IBM, Compaq, and Dell when handicapping the PC operating system wars. Hardware
was no longer king; the competition had moved up the stack.

The key subsystems of the Internet Operating System are not storage and
computation. Those are
merely table stakes to get into the game. What will distinguish players are data subsystems.

Data is hard to acquire and expensive to maintain. Delivering it algorithmically at the speeds
applications required for reasonable real
-
tim
e performance is the province of very few companies.

In this regard, Amazon has three major subsystems that give it an edge: its access to media (notably
books, music, and video); its massive database of user contributed reviews, ratings, and purchase data
,
and its One
-
Click database of hundreds of millions of payment accounts. As yet, only one of these,
payment, has been turned into a web service,

Amazon Flexible Payment Service.

Despite having an early lead in in
ternet payment, Amazon reserved its use for too long for competitive
advantage for its own e
-
commerce site, and didn't deploy it as an internet
-
wide service usable by
developers until recently. And even then, Amazon lacks significant payment presence on mo
bile
devices. Amazon has its own Kindle device for ebook sales, and its iPhone and Android apps for e
-
commerce, but powerful as these apps may be for driving sales to Amazon, they give the company no
leverage in supporting third party developers. If anythi
ng, they will hinder the development of a
mobile e
-
commerce ecosystem based on Amazon because Amazon is the largest competitor for many
potential e
-
commerce developers.

Amazon's use of its media database as a back
-
end for its own proprietary e
-
reader devic
e, the Kindle,
highlights one of the fronts in what I've elsewhere called

the War for the Web
, namely the use of a
dedicated front
-
end device giving preferential access to a player's

back
-
end services. Apple and Google
are in a much stronger position in this regard, with general
-
purpose smartphones as the device front
-
ends for their platforms. But Amazon has moved quickly to deploy its Kindle software on iPhone and
Android; their comp
elling library of content may make the use of a proprietary device less important.

Two other Amazon service worthy of note are the

Mechanical Turk

service and the

Fulfi
llment Web
Service
.

The Mechanical Turk service allows developers to farm out simple tasks to human participants. This
turns out to be a remarkably powerful capability, with applications as divergent as data cleansing,
metadata management, and even

crowdsourcing disaster relief
. There are many tasks that computers
can't do alone, but that humans can help with. I've often made the case that all Web 2.0 applications
are in fa
ct systems for

harnessing the collective intelligence of human users
. But most of these
applications do it in a single field of endeavor; Mechanical Turk is the leading ge
neral
-
purpose platform
for putting people to work on small tasks that are easy for humans but hard for computers to do on
their own.

Amazon's Fulfillment Web Service is another sleeper, whose full significance hasn't yet been realized. I
foresee a future i
n which

phone
-
based e
-
commerce

makes the leap from virtual to physical goods.
Right now, there's a huge business in selling songs, applications, ebooks, movies,
and games on phones.
There's an even bigger explosion coming in buying physical goods on the phone. And Amazon is the only
platform player who actually can offer programmatically
-
driven fulfillment services. This is hugely
important.

Amazon's weaknesses: S
earch (they have search capabilities with A9 and Alexa, but don't have a
business model to support or extend those capabilities to developers at a cost (free) that is going to be
required); advertising; location services; speech recognition; social graph.
They have a very strong
hand, very deep in some areas, but almost completely lacking in others.

Amazon also is weaker financially than its big three competitors: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Jeff
Bezos argues that this is actually a strength. He has noted

more than once that Amazon's core business
is retail, a notably low margin business. Cloud computing is a better business for Amazon than the
school of hard knocks where it's learned to make a profit. "Commodity businesses don't scare us,"

he
says
. "We're experts at them. We've never had 35 or 40 percent margins like most tech companies."

This idea, of course, applies only to the commodity layers of cloud computing.
And that's one more
reminder that the outsized profits actually reside in the

data subsystems

where lock
-
in is achievable.

Apple

A few years ago, e
veryone thought that the big industry showdown was between Microsoft and Google.
Now, Apple is the company to beat. With over 185,000 applications, the iPhone app store is creating a
new information and services marketplace to rival the web itself. While A
pple doesn't provide Amazon
-
like cloud hosting services, they don't have to. iPhone apps don't live on the web per se, though most of
them, apart from local games, do rely on internet
-
based services.

Apple's strongest Internet OS subsystems are media (the
iTunes store), application hosting (the App
Store), and payment. Apple has over a hundred million people who are used to buying content with one
click. They've given Apple their payment credentials, and use them to buy a wide variety of digital
goods: firs
t music, then applications, including games, then books.

What's next? As physical goods e
-
commerce takes off on the phone, I expect Apple to try to insert itself
into the great money river flowing through its platform. Apple takes a 30% cut from applicatio
n sales.
While this percentage is too high for physical goods, it's not hard to imagine Apple interposing itself as
the payment processor for applications ranging from ebay to Chipotle, taking a little bit of a much
larger revenue stream.

Apple's weaknesse
s are legion. They have no cloud computation platform, they are latecomers to
location and advertising, with interesting acquisitions but no clear strategy and nothing like a critical
mass of data. (They do, however, have piles of cash, and strategic acqui
sitions could quickly change
those dynamics.) They have great social graph assets in the form of user address books, email stores,
and instant messaging friend networks, but they show little sign of understanding how to turn those
assets into next generati
on applications or services. But most strikingly, they don't really seem to
understand some key aspects of the game that is afoot.

If they did,

MobileMe

would be free to every user, not a $99 add
-
on. Web 2.0 c
ompanies know that
systems that get better the more people use them are the key to marketplace dominance in the
network era. The social graph is one such system, for which Facebook is currently the market leader.
Companies that want to dominate the Interne
t Operating System either need to make a deal with
Facebook to integrate their platforms, or have a compelling strategy for building out their own social
graph assets. Unless Apple is planning a deal with Facebook, their current MobileMe strategy seems
onl
y to indicate that they don't understand the stakes.

Apple's other weaknesses might well be addressed by an alliance with Microsoft, which has strengths
everywhere that Apple is weak. Given

Apple's feud with Google
, this is an increasingly likely scenario.
In fact, you can imagine a 3
-
way alliance between Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft that would make for
a very powerful platform. That being said, alliances are relatively weak at coor
dinated execution, so
this opportunity may be stronger in theory than it turns out in fact.

But all of these weaknesses may be outweighed by the amazing job that Apple has done in creating a
new computing paradigm to rival the web itself. As Jim Stogdill w
rote in a recent post,

the iPad isn't a
computer, it's a distribution channel
:

One interesting twist is how the iPad combines network effects and constrained distribution.

The bright
shiny object design of the iPad leads to network effects at the app store which in turn drives more
consumers back to the device itself. Then to the degree that those two forces hold consumers in thrall
of the device, Apple can use the device a
s the point of sale for content worth more than the device
itself. The leverage is linked
-

the first leads to market presence, and then the market presence makes
for stronger monetization opportunities in the device
-
hosted channel.

The other interesting t
hing is that so many of those "apps" are really just web pages without a URL. Or
books packaged as an app. In short, this is content that is abandoning the web to become a
monetizable app.

History is never completely new and we've seen things like this hap
pen before. Prior to the 1980's
essentially all television was broadcast in the clear. An unconstrained distribution channel like
broadcast TV could only be monetized through ad sales, but along came cable with its point
-
to
-
point
wave guides and surprised
consumers were suddenly faced with paying for access.

This is Apple's trump card.

There are those who point to the lessons of VHS vs Betamax and the commodity PC vs Apple, and see
Android as an inevitable winner. However, as Mark Sigal points out in

Five reasons iPhone vs Android
isn't Mac vs Windows
:

It is a truism that in platform plays he who wins the hearts and minds of developers, wins the war. In
the PC era, Apple forg
ot this, bungling badly by launching and abandoning technology initiatives, co
-
opting and competing with their developers and routinely missed promised milestones. By contrast,
Microsoft provided clear delineation points for developers, integrated core tec
hnologies across all
products, and made sure developer tools readily supported these core initiatives. No less, Microsoft
excelled at ensuring that the ecosystem made money.

Lesson learned, Apple is moving on to the 4.0 stage of its mobile platform, has co
nsistently hit
promised milestones, has done yeomen's work on evangelizing key technologies within the platform
(and third
-
party developer creations
-

"There's an app for that"), and developed multiple ways for
developers to monetize their products. No les
s, they have offered 100 percent distribution to 85 million
iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads, and one
-
click monetization via same. Nested in every one of these
devices is a giant vending machine that is bottomless and never closes. By contrast, Google has t
aught
consumers to expect free, the Android Market is hobbled by poor discovery and clunky, inconsistent
monetization workflows. Most damning, despite touted high
-
volume third
-
party applications, there are
(seemingly) no breakout third
-
party developer succ
esses, despite Android being around two
-
thirds as
long as the iPhone platform.

And that's only one of the five compelling reasons that Mark puts forward for Apple to win in mobile.
(However, see

Chris Lynch's rebuttal

for the corresponding arguments why Android will win.)

Nonetheless, even if Apple has the dominant mobile platform, they won't have the full recipe for the
operating syste
m of the future. A network connection has two ends, and until Apple can offer a
complete suite of cloud data services, they can't deliver the kind of lock
-
in that Microsoft enjoyed in
the PC era. This is actually a good thing, and a harbinger of the best o
utcome for the Internet OS,
namely that no one controls enough of it, everyone has to compromise, and interoperability (the
internet as "network of networks") continues to play its generative role.

Facebook

Archilochus, the Greek fabulist, once said, "The
fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one
big thing." He might well have been talking about Facebook. Their one big thing, the social graph,
might look like an incomplete offering, but they have made a great deal of progress based on it.

Facebook i
s more than a website. For many people, it is a replacement for the web, the entire
platform, the world in which they receive news, communicate with friends, play games, store and
share photographs and videos, and use any one of hundreds of thousands of ap
plications. The Facebook
Application ecosystem exceeds even the Apple App Store in the number of applications (
500,000

to
Apple's

187,000
); third party developers like Zynga are

amassing fortunes

using entirely new social
selling dynamics.

Facebook Connect

is well on its way to becoming the universal single
-
signon for the web
-

one of the
first Internet Operating System subsystems (after Google Maps) to get wide adoption across a range

of
websites not belonging to the platform provider. Even more importantly, Facebook Connect allows you
to
Facebook
-
enable

mobile apps. Clearly, Facebook understands what it means to be a

platform
provider.

Their latest announcements, of Facebook's

Graph API

and

Social Plugins
, are taking Facebook beyond
its original "walled garde
n" approach, instead turning Facebook into a social utility for the entire web
(including mobile devices.)

Facebook is testing a payment platform, but perhaps more interestingly, they appear to be

partnering
with Paypal

to increase their capabilities in this area. They are getting better at monetization via
advertising, but they haven't yet found the golden path for social advertising that Google found for
search.

Facebook's weaknesses: Loc
ation, control over mobile devices, general purpose computing and storage
platforms. But these are weaknesses only in the context of the desire to have a vertically
-
integrated
platform from a single vendor. It may instead be that the lack of these capabili
ties is Facebook's
greatest strength, as it will force them into a strategy of horizontal integration.

Google

There's no question in my mind that Google's Internet Operating System is the furthest along. Many
observers will look first to

Google AppEngine

as Google's echo of the Win32 promise. How can anyone
who lived through the transition from DOS to Windows not read the following paragraph, and not be
struck by the similari
ty of intent?

"For the the first time your applications can take advantage of the same scalable technologies that
Google applications are built on, things like BigTable and GFS. Automatic scaling is built in with App
Engine, all you have to do is write you
r application code and we'll do the rest. No matter how many
users you have or how much data your application stores, App Engine can scale to meet your needs."

As Mark Twain once said, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

But to focus too m
uch on AppEngine is to miss the point. If all the Internet Operating System does is
provide storage and computation, then Amazon, Microsoft, and VMware are all contenders
-

and
Amazon has the lead.

Remember, though, that in the future, the subsystems that
applications depend on to differentiate
themselves will largely be data subsystems. And data at scale is Google's sweet spot.

Consider a few of the following applications, and ask yourself how many companies could put together
all the data and computation
assets to deliver on the following promises:



Provide

free turn
-
by
-
turn directions

on the phone, with destinations set by natural language search
rather than by address, wit
h optional speech recognition to set the destination or to search along the
route for items of interest, with real
-
time traffic information used to calculate your arrival time, and
actual Streetview images of turns as well as of your final destination. (Th
e ability to deliver these
services directly is a critical advantage. Anyone who has to license one or more of the components
from another company has a much harder time giving the service away for free.)



Point your cell phone camera at many common objects

-

a book cover, a wine label, a work of art in a
museum, a famous building or other landmark, a company logo, a business card, a bar code, and even,
in an unreleased version, a human face
-

and return information about that object (
Google Goggles
).
(Amazon's e
-
commerce app for the iPhone and Android does show off some similar capabilities. Bar
-
code scanning and image recognition allow you to see something in the real world, quickly find it

at
Amazon, and either order it, or simply remember it on your Amazon wishlist. But the range of objects
recognized is less complete, and the use case is Amazon e
-
commerce, versus Google's more general
platform.)



Automatically dial all of your phone number
s until you answer one of them, and if you aren't found,
automatically transcribe (even badly) the message that was left for you.



Translate your speech or document

(even badly) i
nto any one of fifty languages.

The list goes on. Google has the most impressive set of data assets of any company on the planet,
together with the boldness to put them together into a vision of how computing will work in the future.
They aren't afraid, an
y more than Bill Gates was with Windows 1.0, to put out something that is ahead
of their current reach, with the persistence to stick with it till it works.

And that's leaving out Google's stronghold in search and advertising, its dominance via YouTube of
internet video, its cloud office suite, its strong email offering, the fact that Google Maps is becoming
the lingua franca of mapping across the web, and more. With Android, Google also has the front
-
end
component of the full mobile
-
to
-
cloud stack, with an

industry adoption strategy (open hardware from
multiple manufacturers) that has worked before, for both the VCR and the personal computer. They
have a robust application ecosystem, both

for the phone

and

for the enterprise
. A week after its
launch, the Google Application Marketplace

had nearly 1500
apps
, a faster uptake than even the
iPhone. Today, there are

over 50,000 Android Apps
. (But as Marc Sigal notes in the analysis linked
earlier, Apple has de
monstrated much more consistent monetization for developers. According to
O'Reilly Research, 24% of iPhone apps are free apps, while 59% of Android apps are free.)

That being said, Google does have a payment platform. While

Google Checkout

was an also
-
ran in the
web payment wars, it has renewed significance and opportunity in the mobile era, as every Android
Market customer is, by default, now a Google Checkout customer. In this one story you see how having
all of
the elements together makes each of them stronger than they would be alone. If you have an
Android phone, Google Checkout is suddenly the default payment option. It doesn't have to be the
best. It's the incumbent.

Google's weaknesses: they are the one to b
eat, the new Microsoft that everyone is afraid of. In
addition, they lack Apple's sure touch on user experience; even the slickest Android phone lags Apple's
fit and finish. They also have yet to come up with a convincing social media subsystem, although t
hey
are clearly focused on this opportunity. Their strongest assets are not actually overtly social systems
like
Google Wave

or

Google Buzz
,

but the phone itself, and its connection to the Gmail
-
based cloud
address book.

I continue to believe that the tools we actually use to communicate with each other
-

our phones, our
email, our instant messaging, and our shared documents
-

are the most pow
erful measures of our real
social network. The company that first cracks the code of reflecting that social network throughout its
applications, and giving the user the power to harness that network, will ultimately win. Google has
many of the data assets
necessary to develop those next
-
generation applications, but they haven't yet
found the way to put them together.

Microsoft

Microsoft, like Google, has a strong suite of capabilities across the board: the

Azure

hosting and
computation platform, the Bing search engine and advertising platform, a full
-
featured mapping
platform, speech recognition (via the 2007 acquisition of

Tellme
). They have made

a promising restart
in their mobile platform with Windows Mobile 7
. They have enormous untapped business
-
oriented
social media assets in Microsoft Exchange, Ou
tlook, and Sharepoint. And of course, they have boatloads
of cash, and the willingness to spend it to achieve strategic objectives. They understand the game they
are playing, and how important it is to their survival.

That being said, Microsoft's biggest a
sset right now might just be that they aren't Google, making them
the favored white knight of everyone from Apple to Facebook. With rumors flying that

Apple is in t
alks
with Microsoft to make Bing the default search engine on iPhone
, you can see the shape of a possible
future in which an alliance between Apple and Microsoft acts as a counter to Google's outsized
ambitions. Add in a partnership with Facebook, in which

Microsoft is an investor, and you have a
powerful combination.

Microsoft's biggest weaknesses (apart from the fact that the original Windows Mobile platform was a
failure, and they are now facing a restart) are the "strategy tax" of continuing to support
Windows and
Microsoft Office, the very same problem that

kept Microsoft from seizing the internet opportunity in
the late 1990s
.

Another point of distinction between Microsoft and Google is Microsoft's "softw
are plus services" vision
-

namely the idea that rich, device
-
specific client apps will be the front end to web services, versus
Google's web
-
only vision. Microsoft argues that, faced with the success of native apps on
smartphones,
even Google is embracing a software
-
plus
-
services approach
. However, the rich clients
that are driving the equation are not PC
-
based; they are native smartphone

apps. And barring a
successful restart of Microsoft's phone strategy, Google has the advantage there.

This isn't to say that Microsoft won't continue to be a phenomenally successful company
-

just as IBM
managed to do despite the death of its mainframe mo
nopoly
-

but the cutting edge of the future is in
data
-
backed mobile services, where they are playing serious catch up.

Microsoft's greatest opportunity, paradoxically, is to embrace open data services in the same way that
IBM embraced Open Source Software, to integrate their offerings with those from Facebook, Nuance,
Paypal, and other best of breed data services. The ques
tion is whether that's in their DNA or their
business model. My bet is that it's Facebook that emerges as the integration point for selected
Microsoft services (location and search in particular) rather than the other way around.

Nokia

While Nokia is left
out of many of the overheated discussions about the future, let's not forget that
they are still the dominant phone supplier in the world, that they own significant location and mapping
assets via their

purchase of Navteq
, and that they too have a platform vision in the form of

Ovi
,
providing access to music, maps, applications, games, and more on Nokia phones. That bei
ng said, it's
hard to conceive of Nokia as a first
-
tier player in the Great Game.

PayPal

There is no doubt in my mind that payment will be one of the most important of the Internet OS
subsystems.

E
-
commerce, not advertising, is the killer business model of the mobile world.

And payment is hard. Knowing how much credit to extend is one of the problems that is best left to
people with algorithmic expertise and massi
ve amounts of data.

Apple and Google have their own built
-
in payment solutions (as does Microsoft for some of their
platforms, such as Xbox), but what about everyone else? Visa and MasterCard remain sleeping giants;
mobile phone carriers too have payment c
apabilities, but their business culture and systems make it
difficult for them to deploy them for cutting edge applications. PayPal is web
-
native; making the
transition to mobile has got to be their highest priority. Startups like Square (and others yet to

be
announced) are also taking aim at this area. Expect innovation. Expect competition. Expect
acquisitions.

Salesforce

Salesforce.com also has a strong platform play, with thousands of business
-
oriented applications built
on the

force.com

platform. Salesforce in fact was the first to promulgate the idea of "
platform as a
service
" (as distinguished from simply "software as a service" (individual applications) or "
infrastructure
as a service
" (the kind of platform that Amazon pioneered.)

Twitter

While Twitter is hardly, as yet, in the same league as Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook, their
dominance of the real time web has been

game changing. They have a large and growing developer
ecosystem, and a minimalist mindset that leads to rapid evolution. Twitter is increasingly used as
transport for other kinds of data, and Twitter analytics are pointing the way towards other kinds of
real
-
time intelligence.

VMware

At first glance, VMware might look like a niche player. Yes, they are the leader in application
virtualization, and by virtue of that, a leader in corporate cloud computing. VMware's strategy appears
to be based on making it
easy for applications to migrate between cloud providers, and creating an
easy interface between private and public clouds.

But is that enough?

But anyone who knows Paul Maritz knows that this is a man who understands the dynamics of internet
data. While a
t

PiCorp
, the startup he founded after leaving Microsoft in 2000, he was focused on a
vision of shared data in the cloud. "Why would you want to have your data in the cloud?" he told me
in
a private conversation some years ago. "For the same reason you keep your money in the bank rather
than under your mattress. It becomes more valuable when it's kept with other people's data."

And as Scott Yara, founder and chairman of Greenplum, the mas
sively multiprocessor Postgres
database (disclosure: I am an advisor) pointed out to me when describing Greenplum's

Chorus

offering,
it is not in fact Google that has the world's largest data reposi
tory. The New York Stock Exchange, T
-
mobile, Skype, Fox Interactive Media (MySpace), and many others, host their data in Greenplum. The
sum of corporate data (sometimes referred to as "the dark web") is far greater than that in any
consumer web company. He
nce Chorus, Greenplum's platform to enable data sharing between its
corporate customers.

Put in this light, VMware's management of private clouds may turn out to be an unexpected advantage.
As companies far from the consumer web become fuller participants
in the cloud data operating
system, they will rely on facilities that VMware is already building: facilities that allow them to manage
the boundaries between private and public data. This data and service segmentation may turn out to
be one of the fundamen
tal Internet OS capabilities.

In addition, VMware's

acquisition of Zimbra

might be seen as the first step towards acquiring internet
data assets of the kind described in this article.
Zimbra is an Exchange
-
compatible email platform; in
the right hands it might be used to unlock Microsoft's business
-
oriented social graph.

VMware's

acquisition of SpringSource

is

even more significant. Roman Stanek, CEO of cloud business
-
intelligence provider

GoodData

(in which I am an investor and a board member) remarked to me that
for corporate cloud developers accustomed to programming in Java, Springsource is a kind of
"Goldilocks" solution. Amazon's cloud APIs are too low
-
level; Google's and Microsoft's too high,
with too
much buy
-
in to Google's or Microsoft's systems; VMware's are "just right."

Maritz' long experience at Microsoft drove home to him the importance of developer tools. He
understands how platform advantage is built, brick by brick. You can have the b
est platform in the
world, but developer tools are what makes it stick.

VMware's weaknesses, of course, are many. They lack assets in media, in search, in advertising, in
location based services, in speech recognition, and in many other areas that are goin
g to be the
currency of developers in future.

But that may not matter. Because there's another competitor in the mix.

Small Pieces Loosely Joined

In talking about the Internet Operating System, I've long used Tolkien's "
one ring to rule them all
" as a
metaphor for platforms that seek, like Windows before them, to take control of the entire developer
ecosystem, to be a platform on which all applications exclusively depend, and which gives the platform
dev
eloper power over them. But there is another alternative. Both Linux and the World Wide Web are
examples of what I call "small pieces loosely joined" (after

David Weinberger's book

of the same name).
That is, the
se platforms have a simple set of rules that allow applications to interoperate, enabling
developers to build complex systems that work together without central control.


Apple, Google, and Microsoft all seem to be plausible contenders to a one
-
ring strategy. Facebook too
may want to play that game, though they lack the crucial mobile platform that each of the others
hopes to control.

But it seems to me that one of the alte
rnative futures we can choose is a future of cooperating internet
subsystems that aren't owned by any one provider, a system in which an application might use
Facebook Connect and Open Graph Protocol for user authentication, user photos, and status updates
,
but Google or Bing maps for location services, Google or Nuance for speech recognition, Paypal or
Amazon for payment services, Amazon or Google or Microsoft or VMware or Rackspace for server
hosting and computation, and any one of a thousand other develo
pers for features not yet conceived.

This is a future of horizontal integration, not vertical integration. This integration is already happening
at many levels. Consider music. Virtually every device that reads a music CD relies on Gracenote's
CDDB to look

up the track names; this is one of the net's oldest and most universally deployed data
services.
SonicLiving

provides sites from Facebook to Pandora and Loopt with the ability for their users
to find upcomin
g live concerts for artists they like
-

and to add them to their own calendars via
"Universal RSVP."

Now it's certainly possible that Gracenote and SonicLiving (both private companies) might be acquired
by someone looking to consolidate their hold on the i
nfrastructure of online music, but evidence is
strong that there will be countless "point" solutions like these that will be consumed by developers.

The Internet Operating System may end up looking more like a Linux distribution than a Microsoft or
Apple P
C or phone operating system. VMware might perhaps provide a cloud computing "kernel" while
Facebook provides a social UI layer, Google or Bing provide alternate search subsystems, Android and
iPhone and Nokia and the next generation of Windows Mobile provi
de mobile phone front
-
ends, and so
on.

The

VMForce

announcement, which combines elements of VMware and Salesforce's respective offerings
into a single developer platform, is a good sign of things to come, as companie
s who aren't holding on
to the vision of a single vertically
-
integrated platform find it in their interest to work together.

As Benjamin Franklin

so memorably said
, just before sign
ing the American Declaration of
Independence: ""We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Developers will need to make a choice between adopting any single platform, or pushing for open
systems that allow interope
rability and choice.

In the short term, I believe we'll see heightened competition, shifting alliances, and a wave of
innovation, as companies fight for advantage in delivering next generation applications, and then use
those applications to drive adoption

of their respective platforms.

The key question, to my mind, is which of the "big four" (Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook) will
most strongly adopt the horizontal, open strategy.

Apple is the least likely. They have made a compelling case for vertic
al integration; what's more, they
have made it work.

Microsoft seems like an unlikely ally of an open internet strategy given their history and heritage, but
necessity is a good teacher.

Facebook has made

selective moves towards openness
. As their partnership with SonicLiving
demonstrates, they consume web services from others as well as produce them. And while

critics have
argued that Facebook's recent open announcements don't go far enough
, it's clear to me that Facebook
gains more than it loses by cooperating with everyone from PayPal and VMware to Microsoft to
strengthen their hand.

Google
has made

strong, public commitments to the values of the open web
. Critics have pointed out,
quite rightly, that

For Google, The Meaning Of Open Is When It's Convenient For Them
.

But frankly, this is true of any company balancing open and proprietary strategy. Does anyone doubt
that IBM's commitment to open source software was gated on corporate advantage?

Or that companies
from Red Hat to MySQL have added proprietary elements to a core open source strategy?

In the end, companies make decisions about open versus closed and proprietary on competitive
grounds. The art of promoting openness is not to make it a

moral crusade, but rather to highlight the
competitive advantages of openness, and to knit together the strategies of companies who might
otherwise find themselves left out of the game.

This, by the way, is the backdrop for the discussion at this year's

Web 2.0 Expo

and especially

Web 2.0
Summit
. While the term "Web 2.0" has come to mean many things to many people, for me it's always
been the story of what happens when you tr
eat the internet, not any individual computer, as the
platform. The Expo focuses on the technical infrastructure of the platform; the Summit focuses on the
business models and the business strategy.

As John Battelle notes in his post

Points of Control
, "Fifteen years and two recessions into the
commercial Internet, it’s clear that our industry has moved into a new competitive phase
-

a
“middlegame” in the
battle to dominate the Internet economy. To understand this shift, we’ll use the
Summit’s program to map strategic inflection points across the Internet landscape, identifying key
players who are battling to control the services and infrastructure of a web
squared world."

Handicapping the Players

This post provides a conceptual framework for thinking about the strategic and tactical landscape
ahead. Once you understand that we're building an Internet Operating System, that some players have
most of the piece
s assembled, while others are just getting started, that some have a plausible shot at
a "go it alone" strategy while others are going to have to partner, you can begin to see the possibilities
for future alliances, mergers and acquisitions, and the techno
logies that each player has to acquire in
order to strengthen their hand.

I'll hope in future to provide a more thorough drill
-
down into the strengths and weaknesses of each
player. But for now, here's a summary chart that highlights some of the key compon
ents, and where I
believe each of the major players is strongest.


(Note that this chart is influenced by one that Nick Bilton of the New York Times

put together last
January
.)

The most significant takeaway is that the column marked "other" represents the richest set of
capabilities. And that gives me hope.