Software // Operating Systems
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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.

7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

PC and tablet users might have gained insight last week into Apple's and Microsoft's future strategies from clues in remarks from top Apple executives and screenshots picturing an update allegedly coming to Windows 8.1.

The hints mainly revolve around features and user interface aesthetics, but their most interesting implications involve the companies' philosophical outlooks on computing -- namely, whether a PC and a tablet can or should exist in the same package.

Microsoft marched aggressively into the convergence camp with Windows 8 to mostly disastrous effect. The company has since found a smoother desktop-mobile blend in Windows 8.1, but the OS has still made only modest gains. Recent reports indicate future Windows updates will maintain the OS's current foundation while making more concessions to desktop users, many of whom find the current version too touch-centric.

[Good news for Win XP fans: See Microsoft Delays Windows XP Antivirus Doomsday.]

Apple, which last week celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Mac computer line, has kept its laptops defiantly devoid of touchscreens, but rumors have long indicated that some iOS/OS X hybrid device might be in the works. Patents show Apple has at least considered the concept, but top execs strongly suggested last week that customers shouldn't expect a hybrid iDevice anytime soon.

"You don't want to say the Mac became less good at being a Mac because someone tried to turn it into iOS," said Apple senior VP Craig Federighi, who oversees both Apple's mobile and desktop OSes, in an interview with Macworld, published Thursday. "At the same time, you don't want to feel like iOS was designed by [one] company and Mac was designed by [a different] company."

Federighi also dismissed touchscreens on PCs, stating they don't provide a good experience. Apple senior VP Phil Schiller said in the same interview that it's less important for tablet and PC interfaces to converge than for experiences to move seamlessly across devices.

How does this compare to what's cooking at Microsoft? Officially, the company isn't saying much, except that its enterprise business is soaring, and that its Surface products have been upgraded from massively unprofitable to somewhat unprofitable.

But unofficial reports from usually reliable sources suggest Microsoft will retreat somewhat, but not completely, from its original vision of convergence.

Previous reports from sources including ZDNet, The Verge, and Windows expert Paul Thurrott indicate Microsoft is readying at least one update, possibly two, for Windows 8.1. A major update codenamed Threshold, but which might be called Windows 9 for marketing purposes, is expected to follow in spring 2015. It will allegedly integrate several features aimed at mouse-and-keyboard users, including a Start menu like the one in Windows 7 and the ability to run windowed Modern apps from the desktop.

Threshold will also reportedly coincide with the release of new Windows versions: a Modern UI-focused one for phones and tablets; one for 2-in-1s and traditional PCs that will retain the Modern UI but focus more on desktop features; and a separate enterprise version.

A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update. Source: Win8China
A screenshot from an alleged Windows 8.1 update. Source: Win8China

Threshold suggests Microsoft's perspective now aligns with Apple's in certain respects. Windows 8's original Frankenstein approach didn't work. It was far too dramatic a departure, with gaps between the UIs that were bridged too inelegantly, if at all. It appears Microsoft is now retreating to something more centrist.

The company's not changing course altogether, nor is it embracing Apple's professed hardline distinctions. But Microsoft seems to have realized that even if a Windows tablet can run desktop apps, it can't replace an actual Windows laptop.

The most recent Windows rumors reinforce this idea. Alleged screenshots of the aforementioned Windows 8.1 update appeared online this week, first from Russian blogger, and noted leaker of Microsoft product news, WZor. Additional screenshots popped up on Win8China.com.

The images indicate the update, called Update 1 in various online reports, will enable users to pin Modern apps to the taskbar and see a thumbnail view of pinned apps.

It's not clear if Windows Store apps launched from the desktop will spring into full-screen Modern view or if they'll be available as windowed apps on the desktop, per the Threshold rumor. No Start menu appears in any of the images.

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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
1/28/2014 | 1:25:49 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
And Apple provides different customer service than anyone out there, in my experience. Can MS deliver the genius bar experience? Can Google, some day? It is now the standard for consumer devices and BYOD devices in my mind.
binarydaddy
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binarydaddy,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/28/2014 | 1:06:07 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I'd be curious too, Shane...but sadly, its all curiosity ATM.  I'm an Apple convert because of the seamlessness of integrating hardware and operating system, yet I still support Windows professionally.  But since the passing of Steve Jobs, they've done little to innovate or revolutionize something.  Theyve not released anything truly new and innovative since the original iPad.  The mini was a smaller cheaper version of the original to compete with other smaller tablets that were beginning to catch on and the iPhone 5C to give customers an iPhone option when they couldnt afford the latest and greatest.

And while curiosity for a hybrid UI is there, I agree that demand isnt high for it.  But one thing is certain; Apple has had success in the past creating products that there was never a demand for.  Their ability to think outside the box to how something could benefit the masses before we knew we wanted (or needed) it has been their trademark over the last decade.  No one thought they needed a phone that could access the internet or play games...now we wonder how troublesome life would be without them.

Microsoft has tried multiple times in creating versions of Windows that appear to integrate desktop and mobile; but have fallen dramatically short.  And Apple has a chance to perfect the integrated mobile/desktop platforms, especially since theyve added bits and pieces from mobile into desktop with various devices like the Trackpad and the pinch-to-zoom and multigesturing from iOS to OS X.  And with OS X at its last (numerical) iteration in 10.9 Mavericks, I'm hopeful for a dramtic revamp of Apple OS like we saw with iOS 7 that would merge the two and provide a refreshing alternative...one thats not just cosmetic.

We're not far from June (WWDC) and I'm anxiously waiting for the "next big thing" from Apple.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 11:26:38 AM
Re: Apple lucked out
I also believe in the "nothing is perfect" concept. I was a partner in a pro audio manufacturing firm, and designed numerous speakers and electronics. No matter how hard we tried, and the pro field is a tough one, there were occasion design errors that required fixing after the product was in the field. Apple surely isn't perfect, but they're better than most everyone else out there.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 11:22:48 AM
Re: Apple lucked out
I believe that to be an oversimplification. Apple already sells a lot of software through its Mac software store. It will sell more there in the future. While developers are not forced to buy there, many choose to do so, including Apple itself, of course. So Apple could sell someone software through the Mac store, and it would also arrive, in proper form, as I mentioned, on their iOS devices shortly afterwards. This makes perfect sense. Many companies offer software for pay on the Mac, and then offer, for free, equivalents on iOS, either freestanding, or when you buy the Mac version. I believe this will become more common. Software develops will just have to get used to it. Microsoft already requires all software for Win 8 to be sold through their store. Older software for the Desktop can still be purchased the old way, but you can see where things are going, as it's even more restrictive than what Apple is doing for the Mac, when you just consider the Modern UI, which Microsoft insists will be the only part of Windows left after some time.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 11:16:23 AM
Re: Apple lucked out
If we think of what a tablet really does, and how it does it, from input to form, Apple pretty much did invent the tablet with the Newton. The ipad is the only other real tablet, certainly the only other one that meant anything. I know that some insist in calling the convertibles of the 2000's, "tablets", but they really weren't. At best, they could be called tablet-like, but just in a very limited way. The Grid, for example, never went anywhere, though part of that was Microsoft insisting that they would have a similar product that never arrived, giving the name to products that were never intended to arrive; vaporware. Yes, that was the origin of the word. Apple may not invent some early version of something, but makes it useful in a way the original inventor didn't figure out. You mention PARC, and that's a good example. Apple may not have invented the GUI, as Xerox did. But Xerox's version was unusable. Apple invented the drop down menu, the overlapping windows and many more innovations. Xerox's own computer, the Star workstation based on their GUI, failed. That led Xerox out of computing. The failed Lisa led Apple to the Mac.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 4:44:41 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
That's fair. I'm not sure I'd call Apple products uniformly overpriced, and I think there's definite value in their designs that somewhat justifies the price premium-- but I sure wouldn't mind if they were cheaper. And though it doesn't match my personal experiences, I've heard from others for whom the "It just works" mantra has fallen deal-breakingly short.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 4:35:04 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Yes, Apple is very good at addressing customer needs, both present and future. 
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
1/27/2014 | 4:31:05 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I did not mean to imply that they were not innovative. After I posted my little blurb I knew that it would be taken as a little "anti'Apple", which I am not. I respect the company's legacy of truly beautiful products (over-priced for me) but I am not taken completely by the "it just works" marketing. I support and have worked with many different Apple products and all of them, at one time or another, have had a problem of some sort and in varying degrees from "that's anoying" to "I guess I have a doorstop now".
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 4:29:54 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
OS X and iOS won't converge in the near future. Doing so would alienate OS X developers, who would find themselves unable to create apps, as they can now, without Apple approval. That's in addition to the differeing priorities of mobile (battery life) and desktop computing (processing power).
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 4:26:42 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I understand this point of view, but only to a degree. Apple didn't literally invent tablet computers, per se, but I bet most people think otherwise. I understand why that might irk some people.

But even if Microsoft or someone at Xerox PARC or whoever invents a concept, doesn't Apple deserve some credit for figuring out how to turn the concept into a disruptive force? "Invent" and "innovate" aren't the same (though Apple, like Microsoft, invents lots of stuff). Moreover, if all Apple did was "tweak" someone else's idea, why haven't more companies figured out how to copy Apple's model? Marketing is admittedly a part of Apple's success, but so are the products themselves. I find it difficult to deny Apple its reputation as an innovative company.
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