Tag Archives: Windows RT

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.

Will bringing Office to the iPad kill Surface RT?

Amidst all the talk of the Microsoft Office apps coming to the iPad, there hasn’t been much thought about what bringing the apps to the iPad means to Microsoft’s long-term future. Peter Bright of Ars Technica thinks that Microsoft is playing a dangerous game:

“Should this come to pass, Microsoft will not just be banging a nail into the coffin of Windows RT and, by extension, its Surface tablet. It’ll be digging the grave, tossing in the body, and then unloading a few tons of concrete into the hole to ensure that there’s no risk of reanimation.”

Peter does have a point. The unique selling point of Windows RT is that it comes with “real” Office apps, and in handing the iPad the keys to the Office kingdom Microsoft runs the risk of undermining its own competing product.

But there’s a few counterpoints. First of all, it’s unlikely that the versions of Office for iOS will include many of the features that Windows RT Office has. On Microsoft’s platform, Office has feature parity with the full Windows 8 version. On iPad, it’s much more likely to be closer to the web Office apps in features. You’ll be able to do basic edits, but that’s probably about it. 

Second, and more important in the long term, if Microsoft doesn’t produce apps for the iPad it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant on a platform that’s being widely adopted by business. If it wants to keep the rest of the “Windows/Office/Exchange” software stack intact, it has to be on iPad. Google, probably it’s biggest competitor at the moment in enterprise office apps, it already there and keeps adding new features to its iOS programmes. 

If Microsoft doesn’t eat it’s own young, then someone else will. Better to preserve two elements of Windows/Office/Exchange than lose them.

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. 

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 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.