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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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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