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10/16/2012
09:04 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely

Microsoft's new operating system looks how a modern OS should--big, bold, and centered around apps. Suddenly, it's Apple's turn to catch up.

8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
It's an irony Karl Marx would have loved. In getting users hooked on apps, Apple may have become its own gravedigger--at least for the Mac--while opening a door for Microsoft.

The popularity of the iPhone, and now the iPad, has changed consumers' notions about how computing devices should look and feel. The browser-based PC experience is giving way to the snappy, appy world of smartphones, tablets, and other new devices.

It started with the iPhone. Users embraced the idea of built-for-purpose apps that, while doing only one or two things, did them well. They also liked the fact that apps, when well designed, are free of the generic chrome and clutter on traditional PC applications. A slick and simple design code makes apps ideal for touch. Users don't have to worry about being all thumbs because in most cases there aren't many buttons to press.

No surprise then that iPhone-style apps soon showed up on other platforms--most notably phones powered by Google's Android. It was no coincidence, as a federal jury recently found in the Apple vs. Samsung patent case. Now, the world beyond phones and tablets is getting appified as industrial designers and interface experts from other fields embrace the concept.

[ Windows 8 raises a lot of questions. Read Is Windows 8 Too Risky For IT? ]

Roku, which makes a little box that transforms a standard television into a smartTV, uses the app metaphor to serve up on-demand programming and services from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and others. And the display screens used by news networks like CNN and Fox are starting to look pretty appy. (Most of those displays are built by Microsoft's recently acquired Perceptive Pixel unit).

The app influence is even making its way to the browser. eBay's redesigned home page, with its big, blocky images, looks suspiciously app-like--an indication that retailers seeking a unified brand image across multiple devices will start with their apps and work backwards. Their Web presences are becoming adaptations of their apps, not vice versa.

Which brings us back to Apple and Microsoft. Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion are the newest PC operating systems from Redmond and Cupertino, respectively. But it's Microsoft's that represents a bold leap into the app world. Microsoft has drawn lots of fire recently for being late to almost every significant tech development of the past decade, including mobile, music, and search.

Windows 8 GUI
Right touch: Windows 8's tactile GUI meets evolving expectations for computing interfaces.

But when it comes to embracing what appears to be the latest trend, apps, it's suddenly ahead.

Microsoft has done significant work to make the overall Windows 8 environment distinctive. The Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) has a consistent look and feel that starts with the Live Tiles interface, runs through its own and third-party apps, and extends into cloud services, such as Microsoft Music, that are available on Xbox Live.

Windows 8 apps are true apps, as I would define the term: Full-screen, specialized purpose, touchable, and always connected. And they can run on PCs or tablets, and have close cousins that will run on Windows Phone 8, which also uses Modern UI. For functions not suitable for touch, Windows 8 can be used with traditional input tools. And the classic Explorer desktop can be accessed on Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise with a single click.

OSX Mountain Lion? Despite some new fit and finish, it remains a traditional PC operating system that is a bridge too far from Apple's iOS-based mobile products. It sticks with old-style applications (window-based, general purpose, manipulated through mouse and keyboard) and the browser as the gateway to information and services.

OS Lion
Mouse that bored: OS X Mountain Lion is slick, but point-and-click is getting long in the tooth.

It does support the Mac's Multi-Touch trackpad, but still requires a lot of pointing and clicking to get around. And, given the rather astounding fact that as of this writing there is no such thing as a touchable Mac, it does not offer a tactile interface. Thus, even apps available from the Mac App Store must be written to conform to a GUI style that is increasingly being seen as old school.

So in terms of being a modern computer operating system, Windows 8 leaves OS X Mountain Lion in the dust. And that has a couple of important implications. It may be enough to stop advances that Apple has been making in the desktop market off the back of the iPhone and the iPad.

The other is that it may be a threat to the iPhone and iPad themselves. Users who prefer app-centric computing, and that may already be the majority, now have an ecosystem that offers a consistent experience across all devices, whether phone, tablet, PCs, or even a TV or gaming console. That's the new Microsoft ecosystem, and its foundation is Windows 8. Suddenly, it's Apple's turn to catch up.

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S. Kyle Davis
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S. Kyle Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:11:13 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
Before the post burns in flame posts, I'll say that I definitely agree. Apple's insistence that "the desktop is the desktop and touch is mobile and nowhere in the midst shall meet" has never made sense to me. If Windows 8 is as successful as I hope, it will be interesting to see how Apple reacts. An iMac with a touch screen is a pretty interesting idea.
JPolk
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JPolk,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:21:55 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
I'm sure the twelve people who don't downgrade to Windows 7 will love it.
JPolk
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JPolk,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:24:49 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
It's simple. The bulk of "work" gets done in desktops. I can tell you it is and will continue to be impossible for me to do audio work on a touch screen, particularly a touch pad. This is also true for the vast majority of people who work on their computers. Microsoft jumped the gun on touch. The bulk of the PC world simply can't use it in the workplace and that's where most of the computing is done.
PMcDougall
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PMcDougall,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:39:00 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
@JPolk: Windows 8 PCs and tablets support mouse and keyboard, if that's what users prefer.
terryh
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terryh,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:48:28 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
If anyone has truly used Windows 8 with an open mind, then they will know that the tile/desktop metaphor is confusing and clumsy. I like the idea they have started with, but to say they have the future of the computer interface is frightening. Search is difficult to find (should be prevalent as an App or something. The Store is a nightmare to find things, oh, did I say anything about the search? I cannot see businesses running to this interface. Microsoft will need to do some iterations to get it right. Time will tell if it is the future.

I am ready for someone to come out with a new user friendly interface that is not old looking, but to me the current rendition of the Tiles interface is not it.
Doc Mike
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Doc Mike,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 2:59:38 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
I'm sorry but you clearly don't understand or use the mac osx. One swipe with the magic trackpad and you get a screen full of widgets that give you all the same functions as the tiles on the Metro start screen. Swipe again and it's back to business. $29 to upgrade all 5 machines at home.
S. Kyle Davis
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S. Kyle Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 3:00:39 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
But with Windows 8, that isn't a problem. I still have the desktop with mouse and keyboard support. I'm just thinking of a Mac Pro with a detachable retina screen. When you pull it out, it switches to the OS X launcher (the name escapes me at the moment). Perhaps it has a lightening port on it, or maybe a thunderbolt port.

It just sounds like something the Apple fans would salivate over. Heck, I'd like it, and I'm not the biggest Mac fan (as much for price as anything. I'm unapologeticly cheap).
Paul987
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Paul987,
User Rank: Strategist
10/16/2012 | 3:01:16 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
Exactly. Touch is great for basic tasks and content consumption, but it simply can't provide the accuracy, speed and ergonomics when it comes to the vast, vast majority of actual productivity tasks. That so many people seem to be in favor of replacing the entire desktop analogy with this new touch-centric paradigm speaks rather poorly as to what we're using technology for - small and simplistic tasks and consumption of various forms of media. Those tasks are fine, and I have several devices that only serve that purpose. On *those* devices, I want a simple touch based UI, but on devices I use for actual work (you know, the activity through which I actually make money to pay bills), I need a UI that best facilitates that work. And despite the inability of people who presumably don't do that type of work to understand, touch simply isn't optimal for those tasks. As such, I fail to see the desire, demand or need to force everyone into a single UI paradigm for any and all tasks.

If I need to cross an ocean, I don't take my car, and if I only need to travel a short distance, I don't go by plane. Each task is accomplished by the technology that most optimally serves that task.
Don108
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Don108,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 3:02:29 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
One of the most totally clueless articles I've read in a long time. Just because I like driving my car doesn't mean I want to do so while eating a steak. Similarly, just because touch works well on phones and tablets doesn't mean I want it on a laptop or desktop.

The totally false assumption of this article is that people are morons and can only deal with an app-centric interface. Microsoft is thus presenting a schizophrenic dual interface so people can choose a Win7 or Formerly-Metro interface on everything.

Sorry. It doesn't work that way. My toaster has a clean and obvious interface and it's different from the interface on my coffee maker. People want the most effective interface for the hardware they're using. For laptops/desktops this is one similar to Win7, the traditional part of Win8, and OS X. Apple gets it. They're not so stupid as to give users two GUIs for the same hardware. Microsoft doesn't get it. That's why Win8 is headed to be a total disaster.

Oh, it will sell. It will sell in huge quantities. That's because they don't sell to users. Microsoft's primary customers are manufacturers like Dell and HP. But Dell and HP are companies and companies don't use an OS, people do. The other major customer for MS is the IT department. Again, departments don't use an OS, people do.

And people using Win8 on laptops and desktops are going to forget Formerly-Metro and just use the Win7 hidden behind Formerly-Metro. As MS heads toward a more exclusively Formerly-Metro future, they're going to have more unhappy end users.

And that's going to turn Win8 into "JAZ": Just Another Zune.
S. Kyle Davis
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S. Kyle Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 3:02:57 PM
re: Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely
Well, although I disagree with your opinions on the interface, but that aside, I do hope that Apple will eventually see the benefit and come up with a similar, refined solution. I have much respect for Apple's design abilities, and I think that a hybrid Mac could be very interesting.
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