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Chris Shiflett

Hi, I’m Chris: entrepreneur, community leader, husband, and father. I live and work in Boulder, CO.


The Internet is the New Unix

Tim O'Reilly has described the Internet as the new OS. Recent observations lead me to believe it's new the new Unix. Consider the following philosophy:

Write programs that do one thing and do it well.

Write programs to work together.

Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

This is the Unix philosophy, but it applies equally well to successful web sites. For example, I love del.icio.us, but it sure isn't for its clever domain name. It solves a simple problem well and doesn't get distracted by anything else. By also providing a useful API, it lets me manage my bookmarks in a number of different ways.

Recently, I've been using Twitter, and I'm honestly turned off by the user interface. However, because I can use my phone or IM client, it's still a useful service.

Although I haven't written about it yet, I've been using Dopplr for a while now, and I like it. It's a simple application that lets me keep up with my upcoming trips as well as the trips of my friends. It does one thing, and it does it well.

Mashups are of course a valuable byproduct of open data, but I can't think of many mashups that I use daily. If someone wants to combine Dopplr with upcoming shows, so that I don't miss a chance to see my favorite musical artists, that might change.

About this post

The Internet is the New Unix was posted on Mon, 22 Oct 2007. If you liked it, follow me on Twitter or share:

14 comments

1.pdp said:

I quite agree on that. I even wrote an article on the topic as well. you can find it over here:http://www.gnucitizen.org/blog/web-os, I don't know if it is very useful.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 06:12:49 GMT Link


2.Valenz said:

Actually, you had the Unix philosopy in mind and started a story around that, right?

And therefore I don't agree with you.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 06:56:57 GMT Link


3.Jon Tan said:

I think I spot a straw man from Valenz. My logic identifier is overclocking today. :)

Chris, I agree, and not least of all because to do a few things well, is much better than doing a lot of things poorly. However, UNIX is not a friendly place unless you've leaped over the high barrier to technical enlightenment. Maybe another way of looking at it is that the Internet is evolving into everypersons' UNIX. No longer the platform of the technically erudite; a ubiquitous OS: UBIX!

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 10:36:15 GMT Link


4.Michael Peters said:

So what does this say about the sites that try to do it all (Yahoo, Amazon) Or closed off systems with lots of components (Facebook)?

And Jon, I disagree that UNIX is not a friendly place. The barrier to usage is just memorization, which any 3rd grader can do. The difficulty in UNIX isn't using preexisting tools, it's creating new and interesting things by combining those tools. The same is true for the internet.

Teaching someone how to use Flickr or Twitter is easy. Combining those things into something new and interesting is still hard and technically challenging. It's all text (and usually all XML or JSON) so it's not really any harder than piping things together in UNIX-land, but it's still a technical hurdle that normal people won't be jumping any time soon. It's composition, not decomposition.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 12:44:24 GMT Link


5.Nate Klaiber said:

While in some aspects I agree, there are a few where I veer away from this concept. I like having my computer and OS, having a private area to do things like manage my photos, manage my bank accounts (not online, but via software), and do my work related tasks with the proper software. Privacy is a big part of it. I don't want all of my photos online, even if licensed or protected, they can easily find their way into the wild. The web simply is not secure enough for me to trust it with an array of things.

It does let me manage simple things like communication with friends, bookmarks, RSS, etc - and all of that is fine - but I have yet to see something on the web that compares to the tools I use for my daily work related tasks.

What are your thoughts about the privacy and concern of the control of your data?

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 13:35:26 GMT Link


6.Craig Overend said:

Marc Hedlund wrote on this topic early in the year thats well worth a read.

What turns you off about the Twitter UI?

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 13:43:44 GMT Link


7.Jon Tan said:

The barrier to usage is just memorization...

Michael, I think that, in a way, that proves my point. Great user experience is about learning by exploration and play and minimizing the learning curve. This is at the core of the best Web applications today. I'm not sure if UNIX lends itself to that.

To use "UBIX" :) , all a person need memorize is how to push a few keys, hit enter and use a mouse. Trail and error takes over from that point and, most of all, it's (hopefully) designed to be fun. Is that true for UNIX?

For me, one of the missing pieces of the Web as OS is related to Nate's comment: Privacy, but also intellectual property. Amongst the score of user accounts, different data types and applications people use, there is not single simple way of managing the data, or porting it. I think that personal domain applications with high quality GUIs to manage the data, and open data formats to port it are the future.

This also seems consistent with the Web of All Things, that the W3C are working towards. As a consequence, I wonder how Yahoo, Amazon or Facebook would adapt to people owning and managing their own data, on their own domain and porting it to applications to use available tools as they see fit? Be fun to find out.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 14:57:26 GMT Link


8.Nate Abele said:

Oh, Mike....

So what does this say about the sites that try to do it all (Yahoo, Amazon) Or closed off systems with lots of components (Facebook)?

Yahoo! is a portal, not singular, coherent application. And, uh, Facebook Platform, have ya heard of it?

The barrier to usage is just memorization, which any 3rd grader can do.

Two problems with that statement: (1) you could say that about pretty much anything (2) I don't know any 3rd graders who can pipe a tarball over SSH and have it come out untarred on the other end.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 16:49:18 GMT Link


9.Chris Shiflett said:

So what does this say about the sites that try to do it all (Yahoo, Amazon) Or closed off systems with lots of components (Facebook)?

One perspective on Yahoo (just to pick one of your examples) is that it's a company that began by focusing on one thing and expanded from there in the same way that the greater Internet has expanded. Yahoo is an aggregation. Unix is a lot like this, too, because it's an aggregation of simple tools that seems complex as a whole.

And, of course, my Unix analogy isn't universal. I just began to notice a trend in the web sites I use; the ones that focus on one simple problem tend to be better, and mashups don't seem to steal anything away from that.

What are your thoughts about the privacy and concern of the control of your data?

I'm not sure what I think yet, but when there's an open API involved, and I don't feel like my data is being held hostage, I'm more comfortable.

Marc Hedlund wrote on this topic early in the year thats well worth a read.

Thanks for that link. I like Marc's take on it.

What turns you off about the Twitter UI?

I might post more about this once I've had more time to use it and think about it. Some early annoyances (such as not having the update form on relevant pages) have been resolved, but there's still something unpleasant about the user experience. I bet Jon could fix that. :-)

And, uh, Facebook Platform, have ya heard of it?

Easy on the sarcasm there, Nate. :-)

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 16:55:45 GMT Link


10.Nick said:

If that second blockquote is supposed to be a quote from Tim O'Reilly, you did a horrible job of sourcing and attributing it.

If it's not from O'Reilly, you still failed to source or attribute it, and additionally leave the entire article as a sort of half-assed reliance-on-authority screed, throwing out an authoritative name at the start and then following up with zero source material.

Tue, 23 Oct 2007 at 21:59:28 GMT Link


11.Chris Shiflett said:

If that second blockquote is supposed to be a quote from Tim O'Reilly, you did a horrible job of sourcing and attributing it.

There's only one quote, and unless you stopped reading at that point, I can't imagine how you missed the attribution. It's the Unix philosophy, and I provided a link in case you want to learn more.

If you don't recognize the correlation between what Tim said and what I'm saying, then I'm not sure I can help. Sorry.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 at 01:50:13 GMT Link


12.Jon Tan said:

Nick, not only are you dead wrong, but your comment was also rude.

...half-assed reliance-on-authority screed

See my point? Chris was exploring Tim O'Reilly's idea of the Web as OS, quoting the Unix philosophy, then citing and linking to the same. He did a pretty good job of provoking some interesting thoughts, too. Was the entry really a screed? It is neither long, monotonous, or ranting. Did you actually read it? I ask because you seem really quick to judge, and have done so with complete inaccuracy.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 at 08:52:21 GMT Link


13.Nick said:

Yes, I read the article, I wouldn't have commented if I hadn't.

The second block-greyish-section looks to me like another quote. I suppose it's subtly different than the first one, but so subtly as to be indistinguishable.

I apologize for the rudeness, and screed was probably not the proper term but at the time, the word I was searching for escaped me. My intention was not to be the random passer-by jerk, but I suppose that's what happened.

I still miss the part where you pointed out what in particular Mr. O'Reilly said about the web being the next OS; and the part where the first sentence of your conclusion, which despite appearances is apparently not a quote, ties in to the rest of the post.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 at 19:27:21 GMT Link


14.Chris Shiflett said:

The Internet OS is how Tim used to describe what he now calls Web 2.0.

Regarding that final note, it looks like Matt has delivered:

http://dopplr.com/account/upcoming

It's not exactly what I'm hoping for, but it's on the right track.

Tue, 30 Oct 2007 at 14:47:56 GMT Link


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