The next Windows

As the calendar turns to a new year, so do our minds turn to what lies ahead for us, the computer users of the world.

As the calendar turns to a new year, so do our minds turn to what lies ahead for us, the computer users of the world.

I've been a contributing editor for more than 10 years, so I've written first-hand about the shift to the Windows GUI from the old character-based DOS that used to be installed on almost all personal computers.

It's hard to remember this now, but many, many people in those days insisted on using the smaller and faster applications that ran on DOS, refusing to consider the more sluggish apps that required Windows. My friend Brian Moura, the assistant city manager of San Carlos, California, used to call such people "GUI phooies".

Fortunately for Microsoft, the last decade's dramatic leap in processor speeds made GUIs practical. Today, many computer users can scarcely imagine a PC that doesn't run Windows. Nevertheless, I predict that 10 years from now Windows won't be the most widely used operating system and Microsoft won't be the largest software company.

With due respect to my colleagues who use the Mac OS or Linux, I believe the operating systems on the computers we'll soon be using -- and taking for granted -- will look more like a newer, leaner OS named Symbian.

The future belongs to devices we'll carry around, not boat anchors that must remain tied to our desks.

Symbian is already competing seriously with Microsoft in the handheld space. Owned by an alliance consisting of Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic and Psion, the Symbian GUI has also been adopted by Fujitsu, Sanyo, Siemens, Sony and many other big players.

Already running Symbian in Europe are several cool devices such as the Nokia 9210. The Nokia 9210 is a normal cellphone on one side. But flip the hinged case open on the long edge and you'll find a workable, Blackberry-style keyboard, a bright colour display and full wireless browser connectivity (see here).

The UK-based Canalys research group recently reported that Symbian devices, with 34% of the European market, are suddenly outselling devices running the Palm (30%) and Pocket PC (21%) operating systems there (see here). A handheld designed for the US market, the Nokia 9290, will debut in the next few months, along with many other brands. It'll be interesting to watch the fur fly.

Some day, we'll all carry C: drives around in a watch-size device. It'll work wirelessly using any full-size keyboard and monitor we sit down at (given the owner's permission). No PC required.

Until then, Symbian looks like the one to watch.

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