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10/11/2012
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Kevin Casey
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Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?

If I skip Windows 8, some folks say I'm losing the appealing opportunity to synchronize all of my devices on a single platform. Color me skeptical.

Windows 8 doesn't launch for another couple of weeks, but it seems everyone already has an opinion on it.

That includes me. I recently explained why I'm not planning to upgrade to Windows 8 even though I'm a long-time Windows user. That generated a lot of thoughtful comments, emails, and tweets--thank you for those, and keep them coming.

When I considered the feedback on what I might be missing, one idea in particular jumped out. Am I losing out on a grand opportunity to move everything I do to a single OS? Today, I mix Windows and Android regularly, and there's a Mac in my household, too.

"There's a productivity gap when [users] come into the workplace and have to switch operating systems to work with 'in house' software versus 'mobile' software. Windows 8 bridges that gap. Same device at home as at work. Same software. Same cloud back end. Same identity system," wrote reader "moarsauce123." I received similar comments via email, too.

[ Microsoft anticipates a critical mass of apps soon after release of new OS. See Microsoft: 100,000 Windows 8 Apps Coming. ]

In this scenario, my technology life becomes simpler by virtue of having everything in a single environment--any and every application I use, plus the boatloads of data those apps generate that subsequently need to stored somewhere (and backed up for good measure). In theory, this is more efficient, and everything from security to support to upgrades should improve as a result. Windows 8--with Windows Phone 8 right on its heels--should turn theory into reality.

Comedian Todd Barry tells a joke in this vein: He receives a text message from his wireless provider that he needs to update the software on his Blackberry. He calls tech support; the rep tells him to hook the device up to his computer to install the upgrade.

"Oh, that's cool--I have a Mac," Barry says.

"Oh, you need a PC," the rep replies.

"I have a Mac."

"You need a PC."

"Hold on a second, I want to check something. Yeah--I still have a Mac."

The joke already seems antiquated. I move between Windows, Mac, and Android without much thought, much less actual problems. Is a single OS for all devices really something I need--or is just something Microsoft wants me to think I need? Ecosystem homogeneity has worked very well for Apple, after all. (The cynic might argue that anyone who really cares about OS standardization across devices is already an Apple customer.) Google is making some inroads here with its Chrome and Android family, too. Now Microsoft is catching up. It makes sense in a big-picture kind of way.

There are two related reasons why a uniform OS is probably not going to motivate me to upgrade. The first is money. The all-in scenario requires anyone who currently uses a hybrid approach to buy new hardware. Can you run Windows 8 on your current PCs? Sure, probably. But as Analysys Mason's Patrick Rusby noted in my earlier column, optimization will almost certainly require new hardware investments--be they touch PCs, ultrabooks, tablets, phones, or "transformer" models.

The second reason: Let's say there's a world in which price is not an issue. (What a lovely world, too.) Are we suddenly dumping our iPads, iPhones, and Android devices in the name of OS unification? Color me skeptical.

I do see the logic. There could be advantages in the single OS model. Moreover, I'm a one-man band. A CIO responsible for hundreds or thousands of employees probably has a different take. I asked Steven Peltzman, chief business technology officer at Forrester, to share the view from the executive suite. Peltzman, who previously was CIO for New York's Museum of Modern Art, generally thinks Microsoft is doing the right thing with Windows 8, especially given the significant headway Apple and Google have made in the corporate world. But he can't see OS uniformity--or any single feature, for that matter--driving many IT executives to rush to upgrade.

"It's nice--not thrilling, but nice," Peltzman said in an interview. "It's certainly not going to be the reason to push a ton of people over."

Not exactly a bullet point for the Windows 8 sales team. Neither is the notion that people will suddenly dump their iPads. "Are people really going to do that? Or are companies going to say: 'Don't worry about it, I'll buy you a Windows 8 tablet?' I don't think so," Peltzman said. "It's not something I'll say is never going to happen, but I think that makes it harder."

Blackstone CTO Bill Murphy sees upside in a single platform, but he strikes a more cautious note in terms of execution. "I think the unification is a great concept, and intellectually it makes sense. Having users familiar [with] and used to one paradigm would be better and all applications would run that much more easily," Murphy told me via email. "However, the devil is in the details. If they can truly [optimize the] experiences on each device then it will be a hit. If there is a penalty in usability, adoption will be much more difficult."

Forrester's Peltzman believes the opportunity is indeed there. That aforementioned gap between home and work "is screaming to be closed," he said. Peltzman points to a recent Forrester survey that showed more than half (52%) of people think they have better technology at home than at work; that figure jumps to 60% among younger employees. "Every CIO hears that on a day-to-day basis," Peltzman said.

There's the holy grail: If the hardware and software are the same at home and at work, one can't be "better" than the other. It would help if Microsoft convinced users like me that their platform is so good, we'd be fools to go anywhere else.

Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

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moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/16/2012 | 11:41:07 AM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Yes, there is a noticeable uptick in web and cloud apps, but that comes with a noticeably uptick in data volumes, which cost people a fortune. And it all requires a live connection otherwise it is all lights out.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 12:01:11 AM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Something that I've found useful when administering Macs - think backwards. There's very clearly a different though process that goes into running/administering a network of PCs than goes into running/administering a network of Macs.

It also helps to have some background in Unix/Linux since the operational theory will help with regards to figuring things out.

And if you want a good UX... I suggest IRIX (or maybe Open Look). Let's go back into the vault and bring out something that really works. It won't have enough eye-candy for the younger tech set, but it also won't eat the battery on a mobile device or require excessive cycles from the CPU/GPU just to render the desktop.

Applications are getting untied from the OS platform - look at the widely accepted use of cloud and web based applications these days. The idea is to provide access to an application without being prejudiced towards or against a single OS (although some /are/ prejudiced towards or against browser technologies).

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2012 | 5:45:48 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
MS isn't setting this trend; it's in the air everywhere.

Google has articulated the goal of Android and Chrome becoming one and things are said to be shifting in that direction.

Apple has many times referred to a roadmap in which iOS and OS X converge. OS X was the basis for iOS. Features are already converging. There's an app store for OS X and the use of iOS gestures via a track pad for the iMac or via the touch pad on a MacBook.

Underneath of course the union between OS X and iOS is very very limited. On the other hand as moarsauce rightly points out above, Win 8 and Win RT 8 are more disparate under the hood than one might think.

In short everyone's aiming at convergence and Microsoft may be closer to it than most. That's at best a theoretical advantage. The question is is how do you get there and what does convergence look like?

Apple and Google both decided that an OS for mobile devices should be developed should be optimized for those devices. Ditto the desktop experience. From there, the potential exists for converging in an organic way that allows for feature differentiation among various platforms.

Microsoft has decided to build a single desktop OS then lop a little off here and there to make it work for mobile. That will get you there faster, but the risk is that you end up with a least common demoninator user experience that is workmanlike but not intuitive or delightful for either mobile or desktop users.

And the reality is that if users don't bite the enterprise can't make them jump. This could morph into not much more than a Windows upgrade for the desktop. Which would be disastrous for Microsoft.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2012 | 5:24:42 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Valid points, moarsauce. The urge to swear at Windows is more frequent, particularly because Microsoft makes so many capricious changes from version to version that create significant and unnecessary learning curves without improving my working experience. Still OS X offers more than its fair share of frustrations.

Ideally yes we'd converge on an OS that includes the best of OS X with the best of Windows with perhaps a dash of Linux/UNIX and an pinch of Chrome, not to mention WebOS which had some brilliant notions for mobile devices.

Dream on. Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly and companies have to monetize by being different. Where we are heading is to a universe where data resides in the cloud in standardized formats and each OS must be able to run apps that can address that data.

In that universe it isn't enough for Microsoft to offer its own converged solution; the user experience for that solution must be best of breed on all devices. I'm with Kevin in being skeptical that they can pull this off. I'll be happy to be wrong.

P.S. Off topic, but perhaps helpful. Re locating files in OS X, once I took advantage of the ability to create multiple spaces with the files I need to perform specified tasks already open in them, life got so much nicer. Worth exploring if you haven't.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/14/2012 | 12:37:33 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
I work on both systems and the issues on OS X are just different. While there are some shortcuts I find myself searching constantly for stuff, because I have no idea where it is located and once I found it the location is so illogical to me that the next time around I forgot and have to search again. What bugs me most about OS X is the difficulty of some of the application installations. You need to mount an image, extract these files, then open a folder that contains the launcher (which is at times difficult to find between all the other stuff), and then proceed to install. Once done close the folder and unmount the image. All I want is to click a button called "Install this app" and instantly proceed using it.
In the end OS X has the same shortcomings as a Linux distro or Windows or an Android device. They all claim to know what the user wants when in fact they are not even close. Ease of user and good UX are still missing from modern OS. And then there are the hardware restrictions, especially for Apple. OS X runs on x86, so why not let me take the OS and install it on the hardware that I have. Why do I need to buy an Apple device that has the same processor, memory, and graphics card as my Windows PC? In fact, Windows works fine on Apple hardware, although it requires some help from third party tools.
And lastly way too many applications are tied to one single OS platform. Unless it is a Java app there is no way to run the same binaries on OS X, Linux, and Windows. Let's get to that point first and then have unrestricted access to all OS (meaning I can install where I want, I do not mean giving it away for free) so that businesses and consumers can pick and choose which one they like best. The Apples and Microsofts and Linux communities need to get rid of all that red tape that's wrapped around them.
JPolk
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JPolk,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/14/2012 | 12:01:34 AM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
"IOS is successful, in part, because Apple did not try to fit the MAC onto a tablet. It started with a clean slate and wrote the OS to fit the medium."

No entirely true. IOS is actually an OSX derivative.
worleyeoe
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worleyeoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2012 | 6:46:52 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Kevin, et al, mark it down. Apple will move to a single kernel. Now, this doesn't mean that they'll ditch the Mac desktop in favor of the iPhone / iPad home screen. But they will move to a single kernel and continue to blur the lines between the Mac desktop and the iPhone / iPad home screen. It's what makes sense and MS should be applauded for setting this trend. In time, we'll find out if the general public minds having to click one icon to drop into desktop mode. But my guess is that on tablets, people simply won't use the desktop all that often, given that most W8 hybrids will be primarily media consumption devices just like iPads.
FireDoc
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FireDoc,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2012 | 3:18:11 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Having used MS-DOS 3, Windows 3.0, 3.11, 95, 98, ME, XP, Vista & Win7...Microsoft has not gotten it right yet, why not improve on Existing Windows 7, rather than yet another OS which that too will have issues. Not having used MAC-Apple since IIc+ & IIgs, I cannot compare MS OS to Apple OS and wonder if Apple OS experiences as many issues as MS.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/13/2012 | 12:05:34 PM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
While iOS and OS X might look alike they are far from the same. Try to run an iPhone app on your MacBook or vice versa and see how well that works. And with W8 there is still no unity, because W8 is not W8RT is not WP8.
Yes, it is just suggestive marketing blahblah by making things look the same and call them by only slightly diffrerent names. Under the hood it is still a huge difference, but companies don't care after the gullibles and fanbois bought the stuff.
hohum
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hohum,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2012 | 9:14:59 AM
re: Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?
Then dont have the discussion? If you are that type of person just
go buy the new iMS device the first day of release. It that simple
if something is not as good as you think afterwards ( say to yourself its better than imaps).

You Can be a mindless sheep and still have a PC.
LOL
Unfortunately, the measure we use for these different paradigms in tech is
vastly different. Apple is expected not to work because of their dogmatic/biased
approach.

I think if people could use the same yardstick and detached critique with apple
the outcome would be harsh.
Until you place both on a level playing field it really is a silly comparison or implied
association.

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