Will Facebook eventually replace the Windows & Mac desktop?

Had the privilege to meet up with Saul Klein, E-commerce VP at Skype and founder of the Open Coffee club, who was in the country yesterday. While chatting to him about the local online scene together with my colleague, Vincent Maher, we got talking about Facebook and other niche social networks.

We articulated a thought that I’ve been mulling over for a while now — and that is: Facebook is increasingly resembling an Operating System (OS) — albeit a virtual, online OS — much like that of Apple Mac or Microsoft Windows. For example — you can install apps on Facebook. Facebook has email, and it has a type of desktop (your profile) and you can do a variety of other things that resemble what you can do on your current operating system. And you can bet that there is much more to come. Yes, at the moment Facebook is browser-based and you need your current OS, but will it be like this in the future?

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The predictions are that your desktop will eventually be online, perhaps exclusively browser-based. Netscape famously raised the ire of Microsoft by predicting it would replace the windows desktop in the early days of the internet just as the browser wars were firing up, eventually leading to the demise of Netscape. (Netscape 3 was the best browser of its time. Internet Explorer 4 was far superior to Netscape 4, which was a lumbering beast. But the key, of course, was that Internet Explorer was bundled with Windows).

So maybe computers will eventually end up as dumb terminals, chiefly powered by the internet? We know that all documents and applications will probably be internet-based. This will happen in a future where broadband and connectivity is lightening fast, dirt cheap and ubiquitous. And in many respects this virtual desktop is what Google is shooting for with Google documents and their other projects.

But now that Microsoft has officially acquired a stake in Facebook, it makes you think about the virtual desktop and OS idea even more. Maybe Microsoft just bought into a social networking website? Or maybe they bought into something so much bigger? Facebook, the next OS? I wonder.

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