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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jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 9:37:24 PM
Re: The question of why
@melgross:

>"Oh, and by the way, how is paragraph support managed here? I've never been able to figure that our."

I hit enter at the end of a paragraph and things "just work."
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 9:34:35 PM
Re: The question of why
@rradina,

 

You raise an interesting question, along with Mel's comments just before that, about how we define the difference between a unified operating system as opposed to two things bolted together. Is X Windows an OS? No, it's a graphical interface that sits on top of some kind of *nix OS. And yet with OSX (years of seeing IBM products has me typing OS/X without thinking it's incorrect ;-) we have a very good GUI sitting on top of, well, *nix. So why do we see it differently to X? Windows 3.x for example, was arguably a GUI that ran on top of an underlying DOS shell, but we consider that (like OSX) to be a unified operating system, albeit one with some severe limitations. And let's not even start on the whole "what makes a particular *nix unique" question... kernel? userland? libraries? *shudders* Then when you run other environments within that OS, things get more complicated.

To me though what matters is how it appears to the user. If Windows 3 was a GUI bolted on top of DOS, I don't care so long as it works. Ditto Windows 8. Reading back on Mel's comments, I got the impression that rather than criticising a layering of one OS on top of another one, it was talking about two OSs sitting side by side pretending to be the same thing. That's only a problem if you discover that they aren't the same. If not, who cares what's under the hood?
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 9:37:11 AM
Re: The question of why
By your views, Java would make every OS on which it runs a dual OS.  Further, Windows is way beyond dual operating systems since it can run DOS, Win 16, Win 32, Win 64, .Net, modern touch applications and Java.  Any Unix system with WINE would also be multiple operating systems except Unix runs Java too so does that make it three bolted together?  IBM's latest i-Series (AS400) can run programs written for the System/36 and it also runs Java.  Does that make it three operating systems?  Applications are also written to run inside browsers?  Is that too an operating system?

Just let it go...
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 8:02:30 PM
Re: The question of why
Sorry you aren't happy with my views, but that's your right. I take each view of a person separately. That really makes more sense than disregarding everything because you aren't happy about something else.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 6:47:44 PM
Re: The question of why
Mel,

Let's just disagree and leave it at that.  A recent InfoWorld post regarding your thoughts on Java and Android have colored my interpretation of all you say.  Peace brother.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 6:20:00 PM
Re: The question of why
I agree with several things you said, but I disagree with others. You certainly are correct that iOS is Unix inside. Android isn't exactly a Linux distro though, because Google replaced the libraries inside Linux with their own proprietary ones. What that makes it, I'm not entirely sure. Does Microsoft need a new OS? Well, perhaps not. But if it runs different software, then it is a new OS. It doesn't matter that iOS is basically OS X inside. It's a different OS because it runs different software (and runs on a different CPU). It's not just the kernel, Mach, but an entire OS, named Darwin, which is OS X without the GUI desktop. Apple offers Darwin as open software. But in Microsoft's case, Win 8 is two OSs bolted together. They run entirely different software. Their programming models are different. Their operating models are different. That makes them different. The Pocket PC wasn't even Windows, just a facsimile. The OS was based on CE, which bears no real relation to Windows. Microsoft has been using that "Windows Everywhere" marketing ploy for years, event thought the different "Windows" OSs were actually different OSs. Microsoft felt that if they were called Windows, and looked like Windows, even thought they ran different software, people would be fooled. And in most cases they were, at least until they used them for a while. Of course, all of those small Microsoft devices used a stylus with a resistive screen, no touch available, unless you regarded a hard tap with a fingernail as touch. Even the horrible convertibles were resistive, though they had 13-15" screens. They were still impossible to use. Trying to use the Desktop on a Surface Pro is a frustrating experience. And now we hear that they may be coming out with a cheaper 8" version. They must be trying to torture people. Oh, and by the way, how is paragraph support managed here? I've never been able to figure that our.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 3:57:30 PM
Re: The question of why
1)  Microsoft didn't and still doesn't need a new OS.  The iPhone is Unix.  Android is Linux.  Neither vendor created a new OS, they simply married those kernels with new human interfaces. 

2)  Regarding Windows 8, Microsoft didn't bolt a new OS on the old one.  They added a new UI paradigm -- I might even go as far as saying they have two presentation managers but even that's not really true as a touch app is nothing more than a maximized, borderless desktop window using touch-first controls

3)  The iPhone showed Microsoft why it failed in mobile and tablets although they were too proud to immediately reocognize it.  Apple and MS desktops offer the same GUI concepts.  Apple ditched all that and started over with the idea of a small screen where the finger would be the mouse.  Contrast this with Microsoft's PocketPCs that were just micro versions of desktop Windows.  Although touch was supported, finger precision doesn't work with pint-sized desktop GUI controls.  It's like threading a sewing needle with a Golden Gate support cable.  The hardware was horrible.  All of them had squishy, low res touch screens that were more suitable for microwave oven keypads.  The software had pint-sized features -- pocket IE was a brain dead excuse for a browser.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 10:16:34 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Excellent point, @melgross.  Of course, back then we didn't have nearly the proliferation of tech "news" sites that we do now, with all sorts of rumormongering and speculation about the latest self-driving flying laser-shooting car that Google is working on.  No wonder fanbois are all like, WHERE'S THE INNOVATION, APPLE???  The tech world is creating unrealistic expectations while spoiling us.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 8:54:03 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
How often can a company come out with groundbreaking products? Apple came out with the iPod in 2001. It wasn't until 2007 that the iPhone came out, and it wasn't until 2010 that the iPad came out. The iPad, we need to know, was either being worked on since 2005, in seriousness, and since 2002, in conception. It was put aside as Jobs decided that a small screen touch device, such a phone, would be a better starting place. So when the iPad came out three years later, it was really in development for at least five years, and actually longer, from point of conception. So, now it's not yet four years from the delivery of the first iPad, and everyone's thinking that Apple isn't innovating since Jobs has gone? Is this serious?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/28/2014 | 5:31:39 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
>Can MS deliver the genius bar experience?

Yes, but it will be called the average bar. ;-)
<<   <   Page 2 / 5   >   >>
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