1508: Operating Systems
Title text: One of the survivors, poking around in the ruins with the point of a spear, uncovers a singed photo of Richard Stallman. They stare in silence. "This," one of them finally says, "This is a man who BELIEVED in something."
In this comic, Randall gives an overview of past, present and (speculatively) future of the operating systems running in his house at any given time. Notably, because Randall is fascinated by technology, he has had more than one OS running in his household since the mid '90's. The timeline tracks how Operating Systems have come and gone over the years, and the gradual shift from desktop Operating Systems to mobile can be observed. Beyond the present day, we see some of Randall's humorous predictions as to which technologies and companies will dominate the Operating System landscape in the future.
It may be that the OS that is closest to the time-line is also the one he mainly uses during these extended periods.
Previous and current systems:
- MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System): The default, command-line-based OS on most IBM PC-compatible computers. Early versions of Windows operated as shells on top of MS-DOS rather than stand-alone OSes in their own right, which may explain part of the overlap in those two bars.
- Apple's Mac OS (Macintosh Operating System): The OS of Apple's Macintosh line of computers. Randall's bar indicates that he stopped using Macs in 2001, after Mac OS had been superseded by the new and then-buggy Mac OS X.
- Linux: A free and open source Unix-like OS. Randall's bar indicates that he likely used it on one or two PCs starting from 1999 while still using Windows on other PCs, or perhaps was dual-booting one or more PCs with Windows, until abandoning Windows in 2007 to use Linux full-time. This timing coincides with the release of Microsoft's controversial Windows Vista and the advent of more user-friendly Linux distributions.
- OS X (Macintosh Operating System v10): The successor OS of Apple's Macintosh line of computers. Although it was sometimes marketed as merely the 10th version of the earlier Mac OS, it was largely a new product. The bar indicates Randall's renewed use of Macintosh computers in 2009 after the OS had matured and Macs had transitioned to Intel processors.
- Android: The upper layers of the OS running on Android phones and tablets, above the Linux kernel. Randall is indicating that he has at least one of these devices.
- Apple's iOS: The OS of iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPod Touch and Apple TV. Randall is indicating that he also has at least one of these devices.
His predictions for the future include:
- 2018: That OS X and iOS will merge. There is frequent speculation on technology blogs as to whether or not this merging will come to pass in the future. The two OSes have a common origin, share a lot of software, and are maintained by the same company that would benefit from the efficiency of maintaining a single unified OS. Opposing this is the fact that interaction patterns are very different between traditional computers and tablets/phones and a one-size-fits-both solution may not be feasible (as proven by Microsoft's disastrous attempt at such), the fact that iOS and OS X (now macOS) run on different processor architectures (Mac OS X/OS X/macOS formerly ran on PowerPC processors and now runs on x86-family processors, while iOS runs on ARM processors), and the fact that Apple spends some time in each of its recent keynotes mocking computers like the Microsoft Surface Pro which use both standard computer and touch control. However, that said, with the release of iOS 11, the iPad version of iOS has diverged greatly from the iPhone version and is now converging rapidly with macOS, so a merger between macOS and part of iOS might not be too far off...
- 2022: That there'll be an OS based on the Tinder dating app.
- 2024: That there'll be an OS from Nest Labs, presumably oriented towards home automation and the Internet of things.
- 2029: That Elon Musk will come up with an operating system.
- 2030: That DOS would make a comeback, but only in an ironic fashion (maybe because there would be no more disks left for it to operate from).
- 2034: That Randall will be deploying an autonomous drug-delivery drone in his body.
- 2042: Human civilization comes to a fiery end, maybe due to some unholy combination of the above innovations. Another possible explanation is that human civilization will be wiped out by an artificial super-intelligence, superior to human intelligence, as Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, Bill Gates and many tech pundits foresee that 2045 will be the year to see such technology becoming real, and as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and many other tech pundits fear that it will be the extinction of all life on earth, as explained on this page.
- 2059: At this time his operating system will be GNU/Hurd. This infamously and perennially late GNU/Hurd OS will finally make it in to Randall's home after human civilization has been wiped out. The joke is that GNU/Hurd began to be developed in 1990, and while it was expected to be released in a relatively short time, even now only unstable builds have been released. So Randall is saying that he will finally run it in his house a decade or two after the end of civilization. GNU/Hurd will presumably have an advantage as humanity rebuilds civilization due to the widespread availability of its code and development tools, and perhaps also because of Stallman's depth of belief, based on the title text. Alternatively, GNU/Hurd might be finished by the same force that finished humankind, for instance Skynet, in case of AI Apocalypse. (Interestingly, although still far from completion, a new version of GNU/Hurd was released less than a week after this comic.)
The title text refers to Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software movement and the GNU and Hurd projects. A survivor of the fire that ended the human civilization has uncovered a slightly burned (singed) picture of him. Those gathered can see, either directly from the picture or because they already know of Stallman, that this was a man that really believed in something. In this case it was free software. Inspired by his image, they rebuild their lost civilization and finish Hurd development.
The GNU/Hurd reference might also be a pun, as in a "herd" of Gnus "running" in his living room, as wild animals reclaim the Earth after the end of human civilization.
GNU is a collection of free software utilities, particularly the system utilities used with the Linux Kernel to form the Linux operating system (often called GNU/Linux by those who wish to emphasize the contribution of the GNU project). Hurd is an operating system kernel designed as part of GNU project that could be used in place of the Linux kernel to produce a complete GNU operating system. Hurd has a microkernel architecture, which has many perceived advantages over Linux's monolithic kernel, and is thought by many to be technically superior, despite its low adoption rate compared to the Linux kernel.
Randall has made several comics about free software and also about Stallman. See this list of comics featuring Richard Stallman. Most of these are also about free software in some form.
- [All text is in capitals. At the top of the panel:]
- Operating Systems
- running in my house
- [At the bottom there is time-line that runs from 1990 to 2066. It has small indicators for every year, larger for every 5 years and largest for every 10 years. Below the 10 year indicators are written the years. Also the year 2015 is marked:]
- 1990 2000 2010 Now 2020 2030 2040 2050 2060
- [Bars above the time-line in four levels are labeled with operating system names, representing the time period for that OS. Below is a list of the bars on the time-line in order of first appearance (with approximate year ranges given). Also the level from 1-4 is indicated, with level 1 just above the time-line and level 4 the highest level above the line:]
- [Level 1 from 1988 to 1998 (extends a little left past the beginning of the time-line but not off panel):]
- MS DOS
- [Level 2 from 1993 to 2007:]
- [Level 3 from 1994 to 2001:]
- Mac OS
- [Level 1 from 1999 to 2018:]
- [Level 2 from 2009 to 2023. On the way the bar merges with iOS around 2018 thru 2022:]
- OS X
- [Level 3 from 2009 to 2016:]
- [Level 4 from 2013 to 2022. On the way to 2022 the bar moves down past Android to merge with OS X after 2018:]
- [Level 1 from 2018 to 2028. The text is written in square brackets:]
- [Level 3 from 2022 to 2029:]
- [Level 2 from 2023 to 2032:]
- [Level 1 from 2028 to 2041:]
- Elon Musk Project:
- [Level 3 from 2030 to 2036:]
- DOS, but ironically
- [Level 2 from 2034 to 2041:]
- Blood Drone
- [This is not a bar, but the text (in three lines) is in a double bar-height (level 1-2) square bracket. The bracket extends from 2042 to 2051:]
- [Human civilization ends in fire]
- [Level 1 from 2059 going past the end of the panel past 2066:]
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