Tim O'Reilly defines "the Internet operating system"

From Tim O'Reilly, a major essay explaining what he means when he talks about the "Internet Operating System." It's all about abstraction — about being the company that provides the infrastructure that everyone else uses when they want to write code or produce services that doe "internetty" things, like payments, location, time, social graph, access control and so on. Tim makes a provocative comparison to the early days of personal computers, before OS vendors produced the services that allowed app writers to hand off device drivers, file-systems, and other messy, low-level junk to Microsoft and its contemporaries. This gave an enormous amount of power to the OS companies.

This is the crux of my argument about the internet operating system. We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away. And much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that promise. We're entering a modern version of "the Great Game", the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing. (John Battelle calls them "points of control".)…

The breakthroughs that we need to look forward to may not come from explicitly social applications. In fact, I see "me too" social networking applications from those who have other sources of identity data as a sign that they don't really understand the platform opportunity. Building a social network to rival Facebook or Twitter is far less important to the future of the Internet platform than creating facilities that will allow third-party developers to leverage the social data that companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL – and phone companies like ATT, Verizon and T-Mobile – have produced through years or even decades of managing user's social data for communications.

Read the whole thing. It's long, smart and important. I only took one exception to it: Tim talks about access control as "providing streaming but not downloads." I don't think that streaming (in this context) exists — it's the phlogiston of the 21st century, just a disingenuous way of saying "downloading" used to convince luvvies and entertainment execs that it's possible to "show" someone a file over the internet without sending a copy of it to them.

The State of the Internet Operating System