Right now, someone, somewhere is developing the killer operating system feature of the future - a feature that will change computing and make us wonder how we lived without it.
However, the person responsible probably isn't grafting away in the labs of Microsoft, Apple or Red Hat - he or she is more likely to be working in a bedroom or loft.
Big companies can grow reticent to change, slow to move and adopt new technologies. Features must be escalated through approval bodies, management and bean-counters. Hobbyist projects don't have those commercial pressures and can experiment freely.
It might seem audacious to claim that the next Windows is cooking in some part-time coder's house, but it's nothing new. Microsoft's OS empire started with the purchase of QDOS, which stood for 'Quick and Dirty Operating System'. Apple didn't create Mac OS X out of thin air, but took an open source kernel and some BSD code (grounded in academia) to get the foundations of its operating system working.
The most successful projects often begin life in ways we'd never expect, and it can take a while for their potential to be fully realised.
Into the future
We'll look at the best alternative operating systems, with the potential to change the computing landscape over the next decade. There's only one rule - no Microsoft, Apple or Linux.
While some of these new operating systems are still relatively early in development, the technology that they're introducing could make its way into the next round of updates for the mainstream OSes we use. Helpfully, you can try these projects without having to repartition your hard drive thanks to the excellent (and free) PC virtualisation and emulation tool available from www.virtualbox.org.
These OSes are all supplied as disk images - usually CD ISOs - so you can install VirtualBox, grab the ISO and tell VirtualBox to boot from it to try it out. You can burn the ISO files to CD-Rs and boot them on your real PC if you want to see how they handle the bare metal, but remember that mid-development releases could contain bugs.
Fighting for microkernels
The GNU project started in 1984 to create a completely free software Unix OS. By the early '90s it had many tools finished, but still no kernel. Linux arrived and was paired with GNU to form what we now call Linux (also known as GNU/Linux).
However, the GNU project has been developing a kernel called HURD. This is based on the Mach microkernel, as used in Mac OS X, and consists of servers running in their own address spaces.
There are services for hardware drivers, filesystems, authentication and more. These are more isolated than in a typical OS, so HURD should - in theory - be more reliable. It will also be easier to update and replace OS components without reboots.