Tag Archives: Windows 8

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.

The 12 Days of Surface Pro 2 – Day two

Day two of the Surface Pro 2 summed up nicely both the pros and cons of the device. First, the bad bit: I became a victim of the failed firmware update, and found myself with a tablet which wouldn’t charge, at all. It merely stayed at 10% charge, which meant that it was confined to being plugged into the wall.

However, Microsoft clearly worked overtime on this one: by midday, another firmware package had downloaded and installed which (judging by the date) reverted the firmware to the version issued at the end of October. And after an hour or so turned off and charging, it was back to full working order again.

Despite this, I’m growing to like using the Surface Pro 2 a little more. As a laptop, it’s a pretty good machine – powerful enough to do lots of stuff, and I really like the feel of the Type Cover. And I’m growing to like the modern Metro interface more and more. Once you get used to it, it feels really good. Of course, that only makes the times you are dumped into the Windows desktop even more jarring…

But – and it’s a big but – there’s still quite a few rough edges to deal with. For example, I’ve yet to manage to get Chrome working properly as the default browser. Every time I try and change it to being the default (running in Metro mode, rather than Desktop) it misbehaves, refusing to display full-screen and instead occupying a small portion of the screen, with controls and menus off the top of the screen and no way to move them back. I think this is probably something to do with the Hi-DPI display, but I have no idea how to fix it and can’t find a way to sort it out online.

And one thing that’s really clear is that 64gb simply isn’t enough. I have a few apps installed – the biggest one is Office – and I’m down to less than 20gb free. That’s with no music, no photos, no video. If I was going to buy one of these, I don’t think I could go with less than the 256gb version, and that would push the price up considerably.

A fictionalised conversation between me and a Surface Pro 2 fan

Me: “Surface Pro 2 makes a pretty poor laptop, because of its crazy kick stand and lack of a bundled keyboard. Just buy an ultrabook or MacBook Air.”

SurfaceGuy: “But! What laptop can you just take off the keyboard and use as a tablet?”

Me: “Yeah, but the Surface Pro 2 makes a really poor tablet. It’s too heavy, really hard to use in portrait mode, and you keep being dumped back into the crappy old Windows desktop to do things. Just buy an iPad or good Android tablet, or even a Surface if you like that sort of thing.”

SurfaceGuy: “But! What other tablet can you clip a keyboard on to and have a fully-fledged laptop?”

Me: “But it’s a pretty poor laptop…”

And so it goes, round and round. Point out Surface Pro 2 is a poor laptop, and you get pointed towards the fact it’s also a tablet. Point out it’s a pretty poor tablet, and you get pointed back towards the fact that it’s also a laptop.

Chromebook sales gaining momentum

Acer President: Windows 8 is “not successful” but Chrome notebooks are winners | Computerworld Blogs:

To make up for the disappointing sales of Windows 8 devices, Acer is looking elsewhere. And right now, it’s finding that Chrome has been surprisingly successful. Acer released Chrome notebooks for $199 in November, and Chrome now accounts for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Acer’s U.S. sales. It’s been so successful that Acer may roll it out to other developed markets.

Add this to the data point revealed by a Dixons/PC World employee a while ago which claimed that where they sell them, Chromebooks have made up around 10% of their laptop sales, and you begin to a see a picture that should be worrying to Microsoft. Chromebooks are essentially eating the low-end of what was the netbook market: Small, cheap, light computers with limited functionality. 

But unlike Windows-based netbooks, Chromebooks are much more secure, and they have the power of web apps. And unlike netbooks, they actually run web apps really well. 

With tablets – by which I mean the iPad, of course – eating the higher end of the netbook market and Chromebooks taking the lower ground, Microsoft really should have reason to worry. Windows 8 doesn’t seem like the answer, and if Windows 8 fails to gain momentum, it would be a massive blow to Microsoft. When even Windows a stalwart like HP is starting to make Chromebooks, things don’t look so good in Redmond. 

Windows 8 PCs jump straight down to the bargain basement

Dell Latitude 6430u - Windows 8 launch, Pier 57

Photo by Dell’s Official Flickr Page – http://flic.kr/p/doAsyh

Joe Wilcox has been scouting his local Best Buy, and found a distinct lack of excitement over Windows 8 PCs, which are already on sale at bargain prices:

I know people shop for deals during the holidays, but if Windows 8 convertibles, touchscreens and ultrabook had big appeal wouldn’t Best Buy prominently display them? Meanwhile, at my local store, tablets dominate the main front area and boxes of cheap laptops fill the central aisle. C`mon, do you want Santa to bring shiny new laptop or tablet this year? If Windows 8 can’t generate interest in PCs during its first holiday season, what can?

I’m not surprised Windows 8 PCs aren’t inspiring a wave of demand from customers. The product just doesn’t seem to have built the excitement of Windows 7, let alone the blockbuster interest garnered by Windows 95 at its launch.

The big issue facing Microsoft is that Windows 8 isn’t designed to solve any real user needs. Instead, it’s designed to meet Microsoft’s need to head off the iPad as it starts to plunder all the enterprise gold the company has relied on for years. The biggest, and most immediate selling point – the “don’t call it Metro” interface – just looks out of place on any PC which doesn’t have a touch screen.

If you design a product to meet an internal need rather than something that customers want to do, you’re always going to be starting from the wrong point. There are several new features in Windows 8 which actually do meet user needs – for example, syncing your data to the cloud – but they’re mostly the kind of behind-the-scenes “plumbing” features that Apple puts in its odd-numbered updates like Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion.

But overall, I keep looking at Windows 8 and just thinking “Why?” Why would any consumer bother with it?

 

Why the Windows brand has been extended a step too far

Harry McCracken thinks that, despite the potential confusion, Windows is still the best name for Windows:

“But here’s the thing: Moving away from the Windows name, either swiftly or slowly, won’t fix any of these issues. Windows Phone has had the Windows name for three generations now; calling it something else would just muddle matters. (It would also ensure that every mention of the product for years to come would include a note that it was formerly known as Windows Phone, which would eliminate any theoretical benefit of a fresh new brand.)

Windows RT, meanwhile, has too much in common with Windows 8 to have an unrelated name. And Windows 8? Well, it is Windows.”

Up to a point, I agree with Harry regarding Windows CE/Mobile/Phone. But Windows RT? That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Unlike Windows Phone, Windows RT actually looks like Windows. It even runs some (but not most) Windows 8 applications. It’s enough like Windows 8 to make a casual user believe they’re the same thing – and that means capable of running all the same apps.

But it doesn’t. Not even close, in fact. 

I sometimes wonder if Steve Ballmer’s experience as a marketer at Proctor & Gamble hasn’t ended up making him singularly ill-equipped to run a technology company. The classic marketing idea of brand extension – taking the name and core of a brand into different new products – doesn’t work so well with technology. Something called “Windows” ought to run Windows software. Windows RT, largely, doesn’t. 

Will someone come out and say they love Windows 8?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog » Christmas gift for someone you hate: Windows 8:

“A reasonable user might respond to this dog’s breakfast of a user interface by trying to stick with either the familiar desktop or the new tablet. However, this is not possible. Some functions, such as ‘start an application’ or ‘restart the computer’ are available only from the tablet interface. Conversely, when one is comfortably ensconced in a touch/tablet application, an additional click will fire up a Web browser, thereby causing the tablet to disappear in favor of the desktop. Many of the ‘apps’ that show up on the ‘all apps’ menu at the bottom of the screen (accessible only if you swipe down from the top of the screen) dump you right into the desktop on the first click.”

Windows 8 is quite possibly a bigger mess for Microsoft than was Vista. And Vista, at least, was relatively easy for the company to extricate itself from. 

Why Windows 8 is a mess, redux

Steve Wildstrom of Techpinions tries to set the sleep timer on his Windows 8 laptop, and finds it’s a little harder than he thought it would be

“The best I could do to stay in Metro was: From the Start screen, bring up the Charms bar and select the Search charm. Pick Settings as the search domain and start typing ‘sleep.’  ’Change when the computer sleeps’ pops up; click it and the control panel opens. Of course, at this point, you are back in Desktop. Again, this method to perform a simple task seems totally unintuitive, especially since if you type ‘screen’ or ‘display’ in the search box you are not offered the sleep option.”

Windows 8 is a mess. Not because Metro is bad, but because Microsoft has bolted two operating systems into one, which makes the entire thing confusing. 

Windows RT tablets aren’t suitable for the enterprise

Windows 8 Tablets and Email: A Disaster in the Making | TechPinions:

“This is an enormous challenge for ARM-based tablets running on Windows RT. because as of now, Metro Mail (sorry, I’m going to call it Metro until Microsoft gives us a real alternative) is the only mail client available for RT.

Unless some third party comes up with a more capable Metro mail client soon, I think RT tablets will effectively be disqualified for enterprise use. Yes, the Metro Mail app is an Exchange client, but it’s a wretched one, far worse than iPad Mail.”

So in other words, Microsoft has hobbled RT for use in enterprises, probably so business users will “upgrade” to the Intel version. Which means their tablet experience is likely to suck, thanks the Intel version’s inferior battery life.

Microsoft really never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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.