Is there a good term which distinguishes a general-purpose OS (Unix, Windows, Plan 9, etc) from operating systems like Android, iOS, Windows RT, etc? The term "operating system" is being overloaded to ship systems which are really more of a graphical shell than a classical operating system. The moves to lock down operating systems, ostensibly made for "security" reasons but conveniently centralizing power and authority with the vendor at the same time, are being marketed to consumers as the same kind of product as a conventional operating system while in fact being profoundly different.

@sir Not exactly the same but Cory Doctorow uses the term "General Purpose Computer" to mean the former in practice.

@sir I think it’s just “special purpose” and “general purpose”

@sir Not as such.

Jonathan Zittrain and others have been talking about "generative computing", also "general purpose computing".

There's the "graphical shell" metaphor, as opposed to a command shell (e.g., Bourne/csh), or environments such as TSO/ISPF.

There's the "embedded device" notion, though that's usually even more restrictive than most mobile devices.

The notion of a walled "app store" model seems central to iOS and Android -- if you want software, you've got to go through the device's dedicated source (or expend much effort bypassing it).

The fact that most people really can't manage any computing complexity is an argument in favour. See #TyrannyOfTheMinimumViableUser

@sir I'm probably risking missing the bigger picture by saying this, but Android seems like the odd one out in the list. You can use some basic unix tools via busybox on it in a terminal without even having to do any crazy modifications. It's more limited, but not to the same degree as Windows RT, as far as I know.
I suppose you could still say most people won't use it this way and that the bulk of it is just a graphical shell.

@brad they're nerfing the stuff that tools like Termux relied on in an upcoming release, and they were already very nerfed to be honest. It's designed to keep you out of the stuff your apps are doing

@sir Ah, that's the second time I've heard about this upcoming change. It slipped my mind already.

@sir “embedded operating system,” maybe?

@sir I've always used the term Operating Environment to cover something that is more than an operating system. It doesn't imply it's locked down, but it does include the user interface, and desktop.

@sir I think 'walled garden' carries over for a lot of your points, but doesn't describe the system itself, but instead the operating environment.

@sir I think "hegemonic" was the term @entreprecariat used to describe these systems.

@sir I don't think one exists outside of "general-purpose OS". We could create a term though. Something like "operating system" for the general-purpose ones and "interactive environment" for the others perhaps?

@sir I tend to make the distinction at the device level (mainly because it's how I come in contact with the closed OSes). I make the distinction general purpose compute device and appliances. An android phone is an appliance, computers generally aren't. My PinePhone is a general purpose compute device etc.
It would be great to have a name for that type of OS though.
@sir I would call the latter “distributions” of the former OSs.

@sir Best things that come to my (tired and worn out) mind are “restricted-purpose operating system” and some incoherent flailing around words like “silo” and “shackled”.

I’m definitely not wordsmithing on all cylinders here.

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