So anyone that knows anything about my work with Rockcliffe University Consortium knows that the entire business model is both virtual and constructed within an environment called “Second Life“. Recently there have been a whole pile of competitors to the Second Life Grid not to mention the numerous other virtual world platforms that are available which are similar to, but pale in comparison with, Second Life (yes – my take, I’m sure others will argue this point).

At the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, Steve Ballmer announced the latest and greatest Windows 7 which “will make PCs faster and easier to use”.

This got me to thinking (always a bad sign) that, the propaganda around an operating system being “faster, easier, more reliable” notwithstanding, we really have sort of hit the limit of the current user interface. Are there improvements that can be made? Sure. However every ‘innovation’ seems to be a play on the same theme where software companies are simply conducting refinements of the product – the addition of bells and whistles so to speak – rather than actually making things easier.

The MS ribbon introduced into all MS 2007 products for example is the most hideous non-user friendly piece of ergonometry that has even been invented. How this ever got put into production I will likely never know but considering the cost of having to retrain everyone on the face of the planet who uses MS products because they won’t be able to find anything after upgrading is a cost that I think most businesses will start cursing MS over once they discover exactly how messed up it is.

Regardless – I digress. So here is the thing: Really, the next stage of operating systems is not about making them necessarily faster but rather to make the user interface more intuitive and ergonomic. To that end, products such as Second Life I could very easily see as being the next real stage of development of the operating system such that your desktop becomes a virtual world. Second Life already has been extremely innovative by incorporating a number of applications into a 3d space and making them accessible. The next step would be to integrate something like Second Life with the operating system.

So here is a potential vision: You as an avatar would be able to use a gaming interface, or possibly something like a Wii controller, to manipulate your virtual office area. This is your private space which may simply be a room or could be an entire island from which to explore. Similar to how you invite others over for dinner, you could have the option to invite people over to your “pad” or similarly go to their personal desktop for social interactions. This might include watching videos, music, working on an application together, any number of things. As a group you could then go out to other virtual worlds, take a class, role playing games, etc..

This is likely going to be the next big innovation in operating systems. The question is – who is going to go there first.

Personally I think it would be it would a stunning achievement if Linden Lab and Nintendo’s Wii were to do a trial to see what the impacts are for working with different interfaces in a 3D environment. IBM is already working with Linden Lab to seamlessly transfer avatar agents from one virtual world to another. So the idea isn’t really all that far fetched and could be a reality within the next 5 years.

Now that is innovation.

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