“Do Operating Systems Matter Anymore?”

It’s a common question in the end-user compute (EUC) industry, and it’s a reasonable one to ask.

Today, we know that OS proliferation is happening — a majority of technology decision-makers in 2021 indicate that they have four or more operating systems in their organization — and it’s only going to grow. Bring-your-own-device is increasingly common; desktop-as-a-service is decoupling the operating system from its underlying hardware; and software-as-a-service adoption continues to expand, making differences increasingly obsolete.

But Operating Systems Clearly Matter, Right?

For example:

  • Some modern and legacy apps still only run on certain operating systems.
  • Employees have different preferences for operating systems.
  • OS-level security is a fundamental component of a Zero Trust strategy.

So it’s not that operating systems matter less — they clearly matter — it’s that they’re getting easier to support, manage, and integrate into the EUC fabric. But there’s a recent development in the industry that will only accelerate that trend.

Say Hello To The Anywhere Operating System

Fear not: Anywhere operating systems aren’t another OS to manage; they’re just a more accessible version of the operating systems you already know and love. But what is it, exactly?

An anywhere operating system is one that’s:

  • Cloud-hosted.
  • Accessible from another operating system.
  • Instantly available from anywhere.

There are two recent examples of the anywhere operating system:

  • Windows 365. Known colloquially as “Cloud PC,” Windows 365 enables IT to stream a personalized version of Windows 10 or 11 from Azure to any device or operating system (yes, even a MacBook). The solution fully integrates with Microsoft’s management and security stack, including Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Importantly, Windows 365 does not require virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), so it’s an excellent way to capture the scalability of VDI without having to invest in on-premises infrastructure or dedicated VDI staff. My favorite feature? The ability to upscale computing power based on personal needs by simply clicking a button, offering additional flexibility for developers, engineers, creatives, and other compute-intensive roles.
  • Chrome OS Flex. Google has long had a cloud-based operating system available from anywhere, but the company’s newest announcement allows Chrome OS to run on top of Windows and macOS, removing hardware dependencies. IT can push Chrome OS Flex down to a device manually or boot the OS from a USB drive, so while it’s not as simple as accessing a full OS via web browser, it does provide Windows and Mac users an easier way to experience Chrome without having to buy the hardware. My favorite feature? The ability to extend the life of existing hardware and delay device refresh, something many IT pros will look for given the ongoing supply chain issue.

What About Apple?

Other than running Amazon EC2 Mac instances for development purposes on Amazon Web Services (which run on Mac hardware anyway), it should come as no surprise that there is no anywhere-enabled Apple operating system, and we don’t foresee Apple decoupling them any time soon. There’s simply too much value in having the OS and hardware working together — yet another reason why operating systems still matter …

Clearly, though, we’re seeing the beginning of a new movement to make operating systems more accessible for the anywhere workforce. With nearly 70% of organizations embracing hybrid- and anywhere-work (including Forrester), I’d say it’s well timed.

So what do you think? Are you intrigued by the rise of the anywhere operating system? Does it have a place in your hybrid- or anywhere-work computing strategy?

Contact inquiry@forrester.com if you’d like to discuss it with me (clients only). Thank you to Will McKeon-White for his contribution to this blog post.