Tag Archives: Windows

Where next for Microsoft?

Paul Thurrott – yes, that Paul Thurrott – has written an interesting post on the quandary Microsoft finds itself in:

Windows is in trouble because people simply don’t care about it anymore. It’s not outright hostility; there’s far less of that than the anti-Microsoft crowd would like to believe. It’s ambivalence. It’s ambivalence driven by the nature of “good enough” mobile and web apps. It’s ambivalence driven by the allure of anytime/anywhere computing on tiny devices that are more cool to use and even cooler to be seen using.

Where Paul gets things right is in identifying an attack on two fronts on Windows’ relevance to developers and users. On the one hand, for most people, web apps used on a desktop browser are more than good enough: they’re often better than the huge, complicated behemoth that is Office. Yes, there are cases when only Office will do (usually when only Excel will do). But users who need Excel are now few and far between.

On the other side of the attack are tablet and phone apps. This is where all the action is. Developers are not only excited by the possibilities of newer, more interesting APIs and platforms in iOS and Android, they also sit up and take notice every time Apple puts out a press release about a new revenue record for the App Store. Yes, the overall Windows software market is a lot bigger than $10 billion; but a large chunk of that Windows software market goes to Microsoft, and Adobe, and other top-tier vendors. The chances of a break-out hit Windows app are small, unless it’s a big-budget game.

However, this raises a question: If developers are attracted to fresh APIs and to the glamour and commercial possibilities of iOS and Android, why are new applications arriving in the Mac App Store every day?

There’s several reasons. First, Apple has continued to develop and innovate in its APIs. Every recent release of OS X has seen pretty cool stuff added to it. Even “bug fix and performance” improvements like Mountain Lion added new features for developers to take advantage of.

Second, there’s the halo effect of the iPhone. Many applications are “companion apps” to releases on iOS. The text editor I’m using to write this (Writer Pro) has a Mac version which I’ll probably use to edit, polish and post. I doubt that iA would have developed it if iOS hadn’t existed.

Third, and finally, there’s the Mac App Store itself. Its existence means that if you’re developing a new application you instantly have a place you can sell your product. Yes, it’s not perfect (and the decision by some companies to remove their products from the Store shows that) but it means that companies have a shop window that a new product can be sold from.

I would go a little bit further than Paul. Devices like the iPad (and the Chromebook) have shown people that getting stuff done on a computer doesn’t have to be complicated and messy, a constant battle with the machine to not get crafted to hell. You don’t need to have to “maintain” your computer anymore – we have moved beyond that.

Except with Windows, where we haven’t moved too far beyond that. You still have to install anti-malware software, you still have to make a conscious effort to keep things up to date, every now and then you still have to nuke the machine from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). The same is true of the Mac, but (as it’s always been), to a lesser extent.

Can Microsoft fight back against this? Yes, it can: but it has to be brave, and bold and prepared to dump compatibility with the dull Windows of old. It has to invent its own simplified operating system, capable of exciting developers in the same way that iOS and Android have, while also being easy and reliable enough to attract customers who’ve come to expect iPad/Chromebook-level ease of maintenance.

Windows RT could have been that operating system, but it seems that Microsoft would rather kill that off. There’s still time, though: but not much more time.

A simple illustration of what Microsoft doesn’t get about hardware design

Why I’m Returning My Microsoft Surface RT | Brent Ozar:

This tablet hardware doesn’t just compete with the iPad – it bypasses the iPad in many ways that are significant and valuable for me.

I plugged in my USB presentation remote and it just worked.

I plugged in a 64GB micro SD card with all my presentations and files and it just worked.

So far, so good. But wait!

I popped out the kickstand and started typing and it just worked.  Well, almost – if there’s one significant compromise in the Surface RT, it’s the kickstand.  You get two and only two positions for the kickstand: open and closed.  There’s no adjustments.  I think the kickstand angle was designed for airplane use by short people, because the screen hardly goes back at all.  It’s probably perfect for Danny DeVito when he puts it on the seat back tray in coach class, but for me on a desk, it’s too steep.

The built-in front-facing camera for Skype is angled so that it’ll work great when the kickstand is open, but again, only for Danny DeVito, or maybe for people who want to show off their chests in Skype.

Microsoft has taken the spec sheet approach to hardware design. Adding a kick stand is good, because you can put it on the spec sheet and that’s another plus point. But it’s basically unusable (unless you’re vertically challenged), which reduces it from a plus point to a meaningless feature.

Fail.

Windows 8: A guide for perplexed Mac users

There’s been a lot of confusion about Windows 8 and all its versions, and particularly about Windows 8 on the ARM architecture. A lot of people seem to think that the ARM version is just the same as its Intel cousin, but in fact, the two are just a little bit more closely related than Mac OS X and iOS: siblings, if you like, rather than cousins.

First, there’s three members of the Windows 8 family: Windows 8; Windows 8 Pro; and Windows RT. The first two, which are identical other than some enterprise-level added extras, run on Intel processors (but not ARM). Windows RT, on the other hand, runs on ARM only. The first two can also be bought as upgrades for existing machines, while RT is only available to OEMs – and not even all of them.

The next thing you need to know is that Windows 8 supports multiple runtimes (a bit like APIs – so in Mac world, Carbon and Cocoa can be thought of as different runtimes). Win32 is the old, familiar runtime which pretty-much all the Windows applications you know and love (or loathe) are written to. WinRT, on the other hand, is new and is how you create applications which use the new Metro interface.

WinRT is the only way you can create applications which run on Windows RT – apps written for Win32 (i.e. everything you know as a Windows app) won’t run on ARM-based Windows RT machines. And, just to make it more like iOS, on Windows RT you can only install apps from the Windows Store. No more just downloading a binary and running it.

So far, so very like iOS and Mac OS X this is. But there’s a twist: while Windows RT machines can’t run Win32 apps, other versions of Windows 8 can run WinRT apps. So if you buy a copy of (say) a game on your Windows RT-running tablet, exactly the same software should also run on your Windows 8 desktop.

It’s basically as if Apple had allowed Macs to run iOS software in addition to their own OS X applications. Windows RT, which (remember) runs only on ARM, is Microsoft’s “answer” to iOS on tablets. Presumably – because it would be insane to do otherwise – one day it may also migrate down to mobile phones. And my gut feeling is that over time, Win32 will fade away and developers will be cajoled towards only writing WinRT apps.

There’s some question marks. For example, Windows RT includes built-in Office. But will this be feature-complete when compared to the Win32 version running on desktop machines? Or will it be more like the versions of iWork you can get for iOS, which are compatible but nowhere near as feature-rich? My gut feeling is the latter, at least if Microsoft wants to have something that actually performs well.

Why the Android ecosystem isn’t like Windows

One of the most often-repeated statements about the competition between iOS and Android in mobile phones is that Android is bound to win because it’s following the same model as Windows did in “winning” the PC market. An operating system, licensed to all-comers, with a range of hardware makers all competing should (the theory goes) drive down costs and increase innovation, just as happened in the PC market.

There’s only one problem: The way the Android ecosystem works is nothing like the Windows market.

In the PC market, Dell didn’t get to build its own customised version of Windows, then make its customers wait to get an update – if it supplied one at all.

When a new version of Windows came out, you didn’t have to rely on Dell to get it – you just bought it, direct from Microsoft. You might have to download some drivers, if they weren’t included (for generic PCs, they often were). But that was often from the maker of the particular affected components, not Dell.

In the Android world, if you have (say) an HTC phone you can’t get an update from Google. You have to wait for HTC to provide it – and they have little incentive to create it in a timely manner. Neither do they have the resources: they’re operating on slimmer margins than Google, and don’t have the software chops. They didn’t make Android, they just tinkered with it. And working out what breaks their tinkering in a stock Android update isn’t always trivial.

What Google has created is in danger of ending up far more like the world of Linux: disparate, fractured “distributions” which are semi-compatible as long as a volunteer geek has taken the time and trouble to port, test and package whatever software you want.

It’s not too late to change this, but Google has to take more responsibility if it wants Android to be a long-term success.

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The One Million Application Store

The iPhone App Store is now over the 90,000 mark, and marching inexorably towards 100,000. Responding to my and Scoble’s posts on the App Store numbers, John highlights the fact that I think I alluded to in my post: That the position is very similar to the old world of Mac vs PC from the 1990′s (and still true today).

To John, and I suspect a lot of Mac users, quality of applications is more important than quantity. After all, Windows has many, many more applications than the Mac. If you’re talking about the world of the personal computer, there’s only one company that could use the phrase “there’s an app for that” – and it isn’t Apple.

However, I think that is missing the long-term picture of the App Store, and how it changes the game compared to the world of the PC. 100,000 applications, even of low quality, is already a big number. A very big number. Having searched around, I can’t find a number for the total number of Windows applications, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s not an order of magnitude larger than 100,000.

In other words, I think that the total number of iPhone apps is already within distance of the total number of Windows apps – and given that the iPhone is much, much younger platform that’s significant. Now relate this to this point of John’s:

“It’s a sign that the iPhone and the App Store are popular, and it’s a self-perpetuating form of popularity, in that developers go where the action is, and users go where the software is.”

More applications = more developers = more applications = more users = more developers… you get the idea.

Given the astonishing growth of the number of iPhone applications, the question should be this: What happens when (and it is when, not if) there aren’t 100,000 apps, but one million? How will that change the game? When “there’s an app for that” isn’t just true in a sorta, kinda, advertising-ish way but literally true, how does that change what people can do?

I don’t actually know the answer. I suspect, in fact, no one does – that the ability to know that whatever you want to do, there’s an application to do it, and importantly that you can find it all in one place – changes the relationship between software, platform and usage so dramatically that we’d be entering a different world.

This is related to a point that Dan Lyons made in one of his best recent Fake Steve posts. The worlds of applications and content are meeting and blurring, and what the outcome of that will be is really unknown at the moment. The next generation of content creators will think of everything as an application. It’s not a video, it’s not a book, it’s not even a web site. It will be a genuinely interactive expression of an idea. The iPhone is starting to give us a glimpse of that. The Apple tablet (if there is one) will give us another glimpse.

Think of it that way, and suddenly even a one million app store isn’t big enough. Ten million? Twenty? Who knows?

But it will be fun finding out.

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Daring Fireball is wrong about Microsoft’s weakness

I am, you’ll have noted, an argumentative sod. This is a great source of irritation to my dear other half, who rolls her eyes as I shout at the television or Internet. But sometimes, you read something and… well… you just have to respond.

Such is the case with John Gruber’s post on “Microsoft’s long, slow decline“. Now I should make this clear: John’s a very smart fellow and a terrific writer. I have huge respect for him. But his post is also riddled with more than a few canards and non sequiturs which make it sound like something is happening which, honestly, isn’t. Continue reading

Windows 7, Mac OS X and Ubuntu: A Tale of Three Operating Systems

Joe Wilcox picks up on a comment that I made on his post about Windows 7 and its relationship to the Mac:

“As you know, Joe, I’m a Mac to Linux switcher (with over 20 years Mac use under my belt). But I’m also a tinkerer who’s curious about OS’s, so I’ve been running Windows 7 as my main system for a month or two. Count me amongst the impressed. Microsoft has actually applied some real serious effort to the user interface design, taken some of Apple’s ideas, and made them better. That it’s much, much faster than Vista is a bonus.

Mac fans should take a serious look at 7—not because it will persuade them to switch, but because it’s the first serious competition from Microsoft in quite some time.”

Joe’s timing is impeccable, as in a couple of weeks I’ll be switching my main computer back to Ubuntu from Windows 7. But the reason isn’t exasperation with Windows 7, and it’s not one that should give Mac fans hoping that the new Microsoft OS will be a failure any kind of comfort.

Continue reading