I often tell people that my experience with every version of Microsoft Windows - going back to 1.0, which I purchased at the very first Staples store in Cambridge, Mass. - resembles my pre-marriage dating life.
Before I met my wife, I'd find myself dating this or that young woman. Things would go along well for a time, and then I'd hear those dreaded words: "It's not you, Mark, it's me."
The syntax is different, but just about every version of Microsoft Windows with which I've worked for 22 years has ultimately issued the same message.
A couple of recent developments, then, raise an interesting question: Is there finally to be an end to Windows as we know it? The answer: perhaps, and perhaps sooner than we think.
Recently, journalists led by the very-well-sourced Mary-Jo Foley of ZDNet.com have written about "Midori," code name for the next operating system planned by Microsoft, one that will have an architecture devoid of Windows code.
The details are sketchy, since the project is housed in the firm's "skunk works," where only the most advanced projects lie. But the thought is that computing will gradually take place in the Internet "cloud," or network, and that we'll all collaborate and interoperate, IM'ing "Kumbaya" to each other, perhaps, instead of singing aloud.
That sort of collaboration is actually available right now. A group of Israeli and Palestinian techies have created a "Global Hosted Operating System," or G.ho.st, which offers a virtual computer online. Sign up, create a user profile (your I.D. and password), and you can log onto it anywhere and get your work done. For good measure, the package includes 3 gigabytes of e-mail storage.
The desktop in this thing is icon rich, with pictures of files, functions and programs. I was able to upload an Excel spreadsheet from my work computer and open it up in G.ho.st, and the macros apparently worked. Some of the headers were truncated in printing, though. It's early days, however.
Part of the appeal of G.ho.st is its collaborative functions: You can work with others across boundaries and borders - penetrating "walls" as a real ghost does, but via the Internet. Right now, the collaboration extends to file sharing and instant messaging, but if everyone is in the same "cloud," it's not a bad setup.
And you can't beat the cost: G.ho.st is free to individual users.
Most of the commands are consistent with Windows commands, but some aren't: A mouse click appears to be the only way to close a window, not the Control-W shortcut familiar to many users. Response time for launching applications seems more than reasonable. The "Zoho Editor," or word processor, started in the blink of an eye; relatively fast typing didn't overwhelm it.
I'm not sure I'd be ready to commit an enterprise to this system, not without a lot more testing. And some users might not want to rely on a system that is run from one of the more volatile parts of our world. But given the determination of its top two executives - Zvi Schreiber, an Israeli, and Palestinian Tareq Maayah - I wouldn't be surprised if this project has far more than a G.ho.st of a chance.