New peeks at a post-Windows future

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A curious leak from Microsoft offered a glimpse of life without Windows.

Software Development Times claims to have peeked at internal Microsoft documents about Midori, a prototype operating system that could one day replace Windows. This is not the media’s first glance at Midori, but these fresh rumors have analysts again imagining a future of “cloud computing.”

For decades, Microsoft’s business model has relied on tethering each copy of its operating system to a single computer. The cost of the OS was hidden – rolled into the price of the PC – and there was no easy way of getting your system preferences, desktop layout, or the OS itself off that one machine.

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This scheme worked wonders for Microsoft: “Eighty percent of Windows sales are made when a new PC is sold,” a Gartner analyst told the BBC.

But as web browsers grow more powerful, the importance of an operating system deflates. Facebook doesn’t care if you use a Mac or PC – or a cellphone for that matter. Nor does Google Docs, nor Photoshop Express, nor many of the websites that are increasingly acting like applications. So if browsers are the new operating system, where does that leave Windows?

Midori latches onto the imagined next major step for PCs: cloud computing. Midori would be an Internet-anchored OS. Unlike Vista, which is largely based on older versions of Windows, this will be completely rewritten software.

Even these new rumors offer little insight into the real mechanics of the operation. Who knows what form, name, or relevance it could take? Perhaps future technology will rev so fast that it blows past the “cloud” concept behind Midori.

The official word from Microsoft is equally hazy: "Midori is one of many incubation projects under way at Microsoft. It's simply a matter of being too early in the incubation to talk about it."

The common daydream is that this OS takes up a fraction of your hard-drive space but offers many more features. Your computer wouldn’t need much processing power, because number-crunching could be done on a distant machine and the results would beam back to your monitor. This could mean smaller machines (no need to pack so many chips into one box), more communication between PCs and pseudo-PCs (e.g. cellphones and PDAs), and the ability to load your personal desktop from any device (turn on the machine and Midori downloads everything you’d need to feel at home).

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