The Next Big (and Bad?) Change to Your Desktop Operating System

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If you're a fan of the stripped down mobile operating systems that power the pocket computers we call smartphones, the next generation Windows and Apple operating systems may make you very happy.

If you're not, well, you're probably out of luck.

Over the next year or so, and probably beginning this week with Apple's release of OS X Lion, the computer operating system is about to get a major overhaul as both big OS companies try to incorporate the best from the mobile world into the desktop experience.

Chris Mims, over at MIT's Technology Review, isn't so sure it's going to work out. He quotes a designer and programmer, Cathy Shive, who observed that the best software designs are tailored for the hardware on which they run.

"Apple has been seduced by their own success, and they're jumping to translate that over to the desktop...," Shive told Mims. "They think there's some kind of shortcut, where everyone is loving this interface on the mobile device, so they will love it on their desktop as well."

While it may be hard to believe that Apple could be that tone deaf, take a look at their handling of the upgrade from Final Cut Pro 7, beloved by video creators around the world, to Final Cut Pro X, which has infuriated the core pro user base of the product. The basic problem is that Apple took many of iMovie's features and tried to incorporate them into Final Cut. The result is a mongrel that's got many in the video community frustrated and angry. Could Apple make the same mistake with Lion?

If the feelings of Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz are any indication, they may. "It breaks my heart to say this, but Mac OS X Lion's interface feels like a failure," Diaz wrote in a scathing review. "Its stated mission was to simplify the operating system, to unify it with the clean experience of iOS. That didn't happen."

Stay tuned. As Mims puts it, the next year or two will be a "beta test of what the PC should be like in an era when consumers are increasingly accustomed to post-PC modes of interaction." And like any beta, there are going to be a lot of failures and kinks to work out.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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