[writing this here, feel free to paste it to your blog if you feel it is suitably relevant
I wrote on my blog, after a discussion with friends, that to a degree this is the reason why Microsoft became all-powerful. If it wasn't for a part-bail-out by Microsoft over antitrust, Apple would have floundered and probably died a decade ago.
I mean, think about it. What desktop machines do Microsoft make?
They don't. They make an operating system, and leave the machines to everybody else. You can buy a Dell, you can buy a Hewlett Packard, you can buy an unnamed box with an MSI board inside. They'll all run Windows. They'll all run more or less the same software (minor differences, MMX vs 3DNow!, that sort of thing, but then different video cards need slightly different drivers...).
Now let's look at the alternative. A company makes a machine, provides the OS. There have been some amazing innovations, and some dreadful mistakes, but I can give you a list that reads like a roll-call of '80s computer giants - Acorn, Amiga, (Apple, to a degree), Amstrad, Sinclair - all of whom wished to create the entire
package, but was not able to keep up with the reality of two large companies doing what they were good at - one with software, one with hardware, walking a tandem dance that led us through the last decade to where?
What lessons have been learned? As greyback says, I think Neuros was both brave and innovative to look to making the OSD an open design. I believe the world was ready for it, but I don't think the corporations involved were. Though I believe more and more people will demand open source designs, for so many awesomely cool gadgets seem half finished, as if run out to market "first" is the most important thing, and perhaps it is to the bean counters. For the end users, the opportunity to resolve personal quibbles (or download a firmware where somebody else has done so) means a LOT.
I'll give you an example. Our mains electricity is "noisy". Sometimes clicks and fuzzes, sometimes EPIC I-dunno-what that takes out the Internet and long wave radio. My Internet is provided by an Orange Livebox which works, but the performance is not spectacular. So I got for a few euros a WAG200G router. Turns out it was nuked by a lightning strike, but this just blew the protection circuitry and one of the ethernet ports (I use WiFi). A bit of TLC with a soldering iron fixed this. So I set it up, get myself on-line. It is marginally
better than the Livebox. I find and install the OpenWAG firmware. Now I can telnet into the router. Now I have an extra set of menus for additional features like network activity, plus special options built into the ADSL chip - one if which is a 2dB margin for long lines on France Telecom hardware. Tick this, and you know what, the router has quite a trouble on very noisy interference and I might get a mere 10k/sec, but the Livebox would have given up a long time before. I've had it keep me on-line when the stats said I only had 1dB of signal to play with! All thanks to open source.
It is for this reason I wonder about the iPad. An Apple creation running Apple software. It's the whole package, but shouldn't it be a package people can modify? Isn't this the way forward in the future? If you need no other prompting, look at OpenOffice and Ubuntu almost
ready to be Granny-Friendly (i.e. non-geek), and not only that, but very likely wiping the floor with Windows. Because, ultimately, the hardware will become less and less relevant - just as the PC has. Nobody quotes processor speeds anymore. Few people bother to say how much memory or cores their machine offers. It's not that
relevant. What is relevant is what it runs. What you can do with it. What opportunities it provides. Look at smartphones. Are they phones, or are they mini-computers with useful "apps"?
I think Android builds upon the strengths of all of this. Multiple broadly-compatible systems, plus an almost-open operating system. This is evolution in action.