The New Operating Systems

“In short, my fear is that the Internet has been paved. You can spend an entire lifetime on the Internet and never feel its loam between your toes” - David Weinberger, The Internet That Was (and Still Could Be)

If you’re over 30, you have spent at least some chunk of your life as a Windows person (likely), a Mac person (you creative free-thinker you!), or perhaps a Linux person (geek!).

These are the operating systems of old. The layer on which you could interface with a beige box, each OS possessing a different slate of programs, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

And when you walked away from your beige box, your choice of OS had little impact on your life (unless you were wearing your Tux polo).

If you’re under 20, this concept of an operating system is increasingly unfamiliar. Right now your operating system of choice will impact your life every hour of every day. And this will only become more apparent in the next few years.

Operating systems will order your food. They will (try) to keep you healthy. They will make sure you’re on time to your Mum’s birthday party, and they will summon the car that will get you there. They will supply you income. They will know what you have bought, they will offer you new things to buy (and probably get you in to debt).

The new operating systems are not being built by the companies the over-30’s expect. They are not being built by Microsoft, and perhaps not even by Apple. They are being built by Facebook, Uber, Amazon, and WeChat.

Uber started out as an OS for commercial drivers and passengers. They moved to be an OS for anyone with a car, and are now moving in to food and parcel delivery. So much of our life is impacted by transport that the Uber OS (or one like it) is one that you’ll use - both visibly and invisibly - multiple times per day (if not hour).

And that’s just transport. Consider that Uber is the most magical payment experience that many people have ever experienced. A whole new piece of the Uber OS is now possible. Why setup a new payment service when you’ve already got Uber on your phone?

Amazon is creating an OS for stuff. And it’s not just about Dash buttons. As Bill Gurley recently observed, Amazon’s OS has successfully created a consumer that “has zero anxiety about the quality of the product, immense trust about the deliverability…[and] trust on price”.

Not happy with Uber having the monopoly on the delivery-driver-employment part of the OS, Amazon has also just announced Flex. Flex is a piece of the Amazon OS that allows anybody to become a delivery driver.

If it feels like a big step to get from the world of Uber and Amazon right now, to an OS that governs almost every aspect of your life, you should look to China. WeChat isn’t just a messaging platform. It’s an OS for gaming, for booking a doctor’s appointment, for doing your banking, for getting retail discounts, even reporting incidents to the police. It is WeChat, not Windows or OSX or Android or iOS, that the Chinese early adopters interface with every hour of every day.

Meanwhile in enterprise, there’s no real need to look beyond Slack as the OS of the future. The Slack OS is growing faster than any of the above - making it one of the few fresh-faced startups that may one day actually fill its ludicrously high valuation boots.

These new operating systems drive us one layer higher. One step further above “the internet”, where it becomes a little hard to “feel its loam between your toes”.

It’s easy to be nostalgic, but the value and opportunity these new OS’s provide is already amazing, and will only become moreso. It’s likely that Uber and WeChat and perhaps even Amazon today are the Atari and Commodore of tomorrow. The OS’s that will govern every minute of our lives in the future probably aren’t yet born.

- October 2015