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Windows losing out to Web-centric development?

Web application developers are finding that the browser is the OS. What does this mean for Windows application development?

Google's Chrome operating system isn't the only thing threatening Windows these days. In a recent New York Times story, VMware CEO Paul Maritz highlighted how dynamic Web frameworks and languages are fundamentally shifting our understanding of the operating system. He said, "If you are in Ruby on Rails, you have to work really hard to tell what the operating system is, it is so far removed."

I spoke with Engine Yard's Yehuda Katz, a member of the Ruby on Rails core team, who said that open-source platforms like Ruby on Rails are changing the game by giving power to the developer to make decisions. "The freedom that comes with open standards and open-source software like Rails will ultimately make software applications better. We believe the replacement of the traditional desktop with application-centric development will benefit everyone."

These comments bring to light the changing nature of application development. A decade ago, if you were writing an application, chances were you were writing it for Windows. Today, there's a good chance you're writing it for the Web as a platform. A new generation of applications are both Web-centric and OS neutral thanks to open-source development platforms.

Importantly, the language and underpinning architecture for Web applications doesn't matter to the end-user (though it has serious impact on the development and operations teams). What matters is the ability to add new features quickly and affordably.

In many ways, the browser is the new operating system. The recent craze for Netbooks that streamline architecture to focus solely on Net access is a function of this trend. What makes it all possible, however, is standards-based development frameworks.

Due to the fast growth of open frameworks, it's no surprise that the developer is faced with a new dilemma. It's not "which OS should I write to?" anymore. It's now "which Web-centric tool will help me develop the best application?" From the perspective of the developer, this is a much friendlier environment.

Accordingly, Microsoft needs to worry about a problem that's bigger than Google. Microsoft is now facing real competition on every platform it dominates and to a large extent has missed the boat on Web technologies that are driving technical and business progressions.

This is not to say that Microsoft can't get back in the game, but there doesn't appear to be much focus on new Web app development in light of all the news around Windows 7 and Bing.

Follow me on Twitter @daveofdoom.