Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
1/27/2014
11:26 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows vs. Mac: Desktop Battle Lines Drawn

Reports and executives' hints frame potential Mac vs. PC debates of the future.

Apple Mac Pro: 9 Ways It Wows
Apple Mac Pro: 9 Ways It Wows
(Click image for larger view.)

Paul Thurrott said Jan. 21, in ostensible affirmation of the screenshots, that his sources claim Update 1 will make the Modern UI easier to use on PCs. He said Modern apps viewed from the desktop will include a "close box," like the one in legacy applications, that can be clicked to completely close the app.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley subsequently reported that Update 1's target release date is March 11, just weeks ahead of Microsoft's BUILD conference in San Francisco. Foley's sources indicated Update 1, previously rumored to include code to further unify Windows platforms, would reduce Windows 8.1's memory and disk-space requirements. She said this would enable the OS to run on cheaper and smaller tablets.

WZor was back Friday with more screenshots, these depicting mouse-friendly functions on the touch-oriented Live Tile Start screen. Currently, to modify a Tile a user must usually select the Tile and then navigate to controls at the bottom of the screen. Based on the new images, an updated Windows 8.1 could allow mouse-oriented users to skip this step: Instead of activating a Live Tile and moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen, a user could right-click the Tile to immediately access controls. The screenshots also show new Power and Search controls in the top-right of the screen.

A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update shows a more mouse-friendly Start screen.  (Source: WZor.Net)
A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update shows a more mouse-friendly Start screen.
(Source: WZor.Net)

What does this mean for users?

As Schiller opined, users want to translate data and services across devices -- and both Microsoft and Apple seem to understand this. Apple syncs iTunes and iCloud accounts throughout its device ecosystem and is now expanding iLife through the cloud. Microsoft offers a range of device-spanning services such as SkyDrive and Office 365.

Assuming Microsoft's next CEO doesn't shift course, rumors indicate the company still believes in convergence, even on desktops, but to a much less authoritarian extent. The company knows not only that users want to use the same services on both their PCs and tablets, but also that many users want to interact with their computers one way, and their tablets another. 

That said, Microsoft hasn't given up on convergence -- and perhaps it shouldn't, as it's clearly a demonstrated -- if niche -- market. Hybrid devices can be useful in certain scenarios -- but they're not ready to be the cornerstone of an OS strategy.

Apple, meanwhile, has a history of releasing products that defy its leaders' statements. Steve Jobs famously blasted small tablets, but the iPad Mini has since become one the Apple's most important products. It won't be surprising if, as supply chain rumors continually claim, Apple eventually releases a larger iPad Pro to complement the recently rebranded iPad Air. If Samsung's 12.2-inch models, announced this month at CES, gain any traction, Apple might even be forced to do so.

If such a device were to appear, rest assured: A lot of people would want to use it with keyboards at least some of the time. So while I believe Apple is more ardent than Microsoft about PC-tablet separation, I won't be surprised if Apple releases a productivity-oriented iPad. Tablets and computers still demand different interaction models, but convergence has benefits. Some measure of hybridity will make sense for Apple, just as it will for Microsoft. The hazier questions are how much and how soon.

While Apple is only dropping hints about future products and Microsoft is staying completely mum, Microsoft recently released a series of guides for Windows 8.1 business users. Those tips can help people waiting for Windows 9's alleged updates get the most out of Windows now.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He graduated from Stanford in 2005 and previously worked in talent representation, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher.

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melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 4:23:53 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I would also like to say that Steve Jobs was said to have a reality distortion field. A writer, I forget his name, disagreed. He said that Steve jobs had a reality creation field. I believe that that was one of the most Insightful comments on it that I ever read.
melgross
IW Pick
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 4:17:31 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Well, there is the well known, and successful, concept of creating customer demand for a product, or service, that didn't exist before. This goes all the way back to pre history. Was there a demand for fire before it wasn't invented/discovered? How about the wheel? Bow and arrow? Coming closer, we can look at the Roman invention of concrete, or the arch. How about books? Magazines? Guns? Then we have the railroad, the automobile, the steamship, and ships in general. The fax, radio, tv, movies, Xerography, computers. Where do we start, and where do we end? Every invention, including the plow, weren't thought about until someone did, and invented it. Almost everything created a market, and a customer base. How about the steam engine, or the gasoline engine? So what about the question about customer demand again? It isn't whether there's demand, because unconsciously, there certainly is. It's about finesse. Microsoft doesn't have it. Maybe Apple does. I've stated my thoughts on this a number of times. The concept is that the OS would show the attributes required for a specific device, that would mean showing UI elements that would work for a small mobile device, such as a phone, a medium sized device, such as a tablet, both not requiring a hardware keyboard, and a "classic" desktop, which likely would. As Apple has it, the underlying OS is Unix. No reason all devices couldn't run the same apps. But the apps could distribute their own UI elements according to the device they were running on. To me, the ideal would be to purchase one app. That Apple could, using iCloud, install across all of your devices, as it does with iOS now. But here, it would install on OS X as well. However, the app would know what it's installing on, and arrange itself so that it would have the most appropriate UI and feature set for each device. So a phone would get the easiest, and best suited for that small screen, with the least ability to edit, or create. The iPad to be a big step up, and the desktop would be the fullest experience. But each move up the scale would result in a smooth accumulation of features and sophisticated usage.To all intents and purposes, this would appear to have a completely converged OS, even though that may not actually be the case inside. It's what I believe Apple is moving towards, and something like what I also believe Microsoft attempted to do all at once, but not really, if you know what I mean. Apple likely has the ability to do this. I don't think anyone else can. Google is a mess right now with Chrome and Android. Microsoft is Microsoft.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 3:59:31 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
To a certain extent you are correct. But the thrust of your post is wrong. Apple does innovate. Apple has been able to risk everything on ideas that at are either theirs, or are something they've seen that doesn't work well enough to become popular, or even functional. So a company may invent something that no company wants to use, or can get to use. Apple gets it to work well, and makes it a standard on their own devices. Then, after a while, everyone else follows. So, yes, that is innovation. But Apple does a lot more than that.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 3:49:20 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I'm curious about what an Apple hybrid device UI would look like. Apple would merge the two platforms more seamlessly than Frankenstein Windows 8. But I don't see the motivation for doing it at all. There's no customer demand. And say what you want about Apple -- but the customer comes first. Windows 8 had little to do with customer needs, but was an effort -- and a clumsy one -- to solve a bunch of Microsoft's own problems at once (revive dying PC market, get into tablets). Microsoft rolled the dice and hoped we would go along with it.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 3:47:46 PM
Re: The question of why
Yes, exactly. If current trends go on for a while longer, Microsoft will not see more major growth in their business software either. I've always said that as sales of Windows goes, so goes the sale (or licensing) of Office, delayed by about a year. We're seeing that already. This last quarter's results by Microsoft is being hailed as great, but really, underneath the numbers, we can see troubling trends. I'm sure Microsoft is aware of this, though whether or not they think it's as bad as it is is another thing entirely. Firing Ballmer, no matter what it was called, is an indication that Microsoft is in worse overall shape that just writing down $900 million from poor Surface sales.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 2:21:01 PM
Re: The question of why
Another thing I picked up on is the concept of getting your stake in the ground in light of agreeing to not copy UI functionality. One could think of Win8 as the equivalent of a kid taking small bites out of all the chocolates in the box so the grownups won't eat them. Get the tiles concept, and whatever else you can jam in, out there. Now MS owns it and can refine (eat the candy) at leisure.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 2:03:46 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I suppose it would be more correct to say there's no evidence to support that Apple intended to bring any convergence device to market. That much is speculation. But there's certainly evidence to support that Apple investigated convergence, perhaps just to conclude that it was a bad idea, or perhaps to make things a bit more difficult for competitors. Certainly, companies patent things all the time that they never intend to bring to market.

EDIT: Sorry, melgross, just saw your other reply, in which you raised many of these points already.
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2014 | 2:03:19 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
That is what APple does all the time (and then claim their "discovery" for themselves). They let the competition absorb the bumps and bruises until they see a viable market, then they "copy"/"tweak" the design and claim innovation.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 1:58:24 PM
Re: The question of why
Thanks for the wealth of great thoughts. I honed in on this observation in particular:


"But why do it this way; bolting a second OS onto their primary one in a way that was so clumsy? It's pretty simple, really. Time! It takes years for a company to come up with an entirely reworked OS. Microsoft had no time."


Indeed. As as these new leaks suggest, Microsoft is still going through this time-consuming process-- not of refining a solid foundation, but of getting the foundation in shape in the first place. Some of Microsoft's old gambles are still haunting them (such as all the resources invested in Vista that should have been invested in mobile, a mistake Ballmer has lamented in interviews), despite the company's formidable enterprise clout. Maybe Microsoft will wow everyone in April at BUILD. But maybe they'll show a version of Windows 9 that just reminds everyone of what desktop users wanted back in 2012. Given that Microsoft is playing from behind, that wouldn't be a good sign. 
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 1:56:21 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Apple, like most large companies, looks into many things, and patents what they R&D. Apple has many patents over the years that they have not used. Just because they research an area doesn't mean the have intentions of entering it. A good deal of patenting things is for defensive reasons. Why should they let a competitor have the benefit of what they've done, even if that competitor have come up with it independently, later on? Much better to patent it first. On the other hand, Apple could be thinking about more convergence, and they likely are. They stated that the usability of the two OS's will continue to converge, without becoming one OS. But then, how far in the future is Apple thinking? It's clear that Microsoft did this all in a frenzied, desperate rush to remain relevant. Apple doesn't need to do that. Will the OS's converge sometime in the future, despite what Apple says now? Possibility, if they have really good reason for them to do so. I doubt very much if Microsoft's errors are telling them what they didn't know already though.
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