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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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melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2014 | 9:36:22 PM
Re: The question of why
I have no argument with that. Each UI is best for a specific purpose. But sticking them both together is a bad idea, despite the reasons they had for doing it.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 2:21:43 PM
Re: The question of why
"it's obviously an attempt to get people to use the Modern UI"

 

You answered your own question.  The modern UI is great on a touch device.  The classic UI is great on a desktop.  Force folks to use both on every device...  we're just Monday morning quarterbacking at this point.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 2:14:21 PM
Re: The question of why
I'd prefer to not debate this topic with you.  I don't know what else to say because I don't think either of us will make progress convincing the other.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 12:38:56 PM
Re: The question of why
We have to keep in mind that Microsoft was terribly rushed here. They needed to come out with an OS that people would buy on tablets, and phones too. They were just so far behind, that they were in serious trouble. No one can rush this though, and Microsoft isn't known for quick moves. How long would it have taken them to re-work Win 7 enough for tablets and phones so as to have it work well all around? Years more time than they had. They basically went to the ZUNE HD and lifted the more primitive UI from that, along with the programming model, and worked it up. But they still had a problem with convincing people to use it. Win Phone 7+ is evidence of that. While I don't know exactly at what point they decided to do Win 8 the way they did, it's obviously an attempt to get people to use the Modern UI, in the hope it would stimulate both tablet and phone sales. Being so close to the project, and having the; "Wow! This is a GREAT idea! It will solve all of our problems." syndrome we see all too often, blinded them to the major defects of the idea itself, not only the implementation. While a few people do love it, most everyone either has a slight dislike, to a strong hatred. So much so that Microsoft seems to be backing off on some of the more important points.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 12:31:00 PM
Re: The question of why
Very odd indeed! I haven't tried on an iPad but like you, across multiple other platforms it has worked fine. Weird!
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 12:28:46 PM
Re: The question of why
I'm working on an iPad, and trying "return" which is the same thing, doesn't give a paragraph stop. Odd, it works properly on every other site.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 12:24:45 PM
Re: The question of why
You respond in a post, and then you tell me to let it go? You really didn't need to have that last post, you could have let it go, but you didn't. jgherbert has given a good response to you that I completely agree with.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2014 | 10:55:27 AM
Re: The question of why
8.1 on a tablet, even an 8", is pretty slick... provided only the lightest of interaction is done with the classic desktop.  For anything beyond that, a keyboard and some kind of mouse control is best.

If 8/8.1 are soley used outside of a tablet/ultrabook context, Microsoft needs to let it cook a little longer.

Regarding naming, it was an operating environment(1.0/2.0), then a graphical environment (3.0) and with 3.1 I think they called it an OS.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
2/1/2014 | 12:46:48 PM
Re: The question of why
@rradina: "Hopefully the next Windows service pack will be like the airbags that eliminated those motorized seatbelt systems."

 

No kidding. Personally I just cannot get on with Windows 8. Each time I touch it (no pun intended) I back away very shortly thereafter. To me it just proves that despite (hopefully) best intentions, having one interface for mobile and desktop Just Doesnt Work. 

I don't recall the "Operating Environment" terminology though I have no reason to doubt it. From a user perspective, we talked about "Installing Windows" as if it were a single OS, just as we do with OSX. And honestly, I don't care too much what's under the hood so long as it works for me as a user, and we don't see huge stability issues that get blamed on the nature of the Operating Environment.

One of the things that frustrates many mobile users may be on the application layer rather than the OS side of thing (preference aside), and that is that most desktop apps aren't mirrored by tablet and mobile versions of the app that allow a relatively seamless transition between platforms. The nature and ubiquity of cloud storage makes this a highly desirable feature, and I really believe that's what MS was aiming at as much as anything else. That's a good aim, but I think they missed the point along the way. We all accept that the interface will be necessarily be different between a smartphone and a desktop; it's how the data can transfer that makes for an improved user experience.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/1/2014 | 9:18:43 AM
Re: The question of why
When Windows 3.x ran on DOS, they called in an operating environment, not an OS.  My father has an all-in-one touchscreen desktop that runs Windows 7.  HP added a touch friendly UI on top of Win7 that makes it work in a unique way.  However, I don't think anyone, even HP or the Microcenter sales staff think it's a new OS or some hybrid merger of two operating systems.

When Windows is running a kiosk app that replaces the desktop with it's own GUI, it no longer looks like Windows and it's difficult to tell what the device is under the covers.  Would we call this a merger of two operating systems?

The reason I think this is important is because calling it two operating systems is making it sound like Microsoft put in a lot of blunderous effort and "fixing" it is a huge task.  This is similar to the FUD Microsoft spread in the 90s when it tried to defend how Internet Explorer was part of the OS and not just another application.  They claimed it  couldn't be removed or Windows woudn't be Windows.  While Microsoft did it's best to tie lots of Windows dialogs and even Explorer to the IE HTML rendering engine, I don't recall anyone suggesting they bolted two operating systems together.

The modern touch features of Windows 8 are similar to the IE rendering engine....just smoke and mirrors.  If we stop there, Microsoft has less room to squirm and there are no excuses as to why it cannot allow folks the option to enable favorite features such as a classic start button and running modern apps in desktop windows.

Win8 (not 8.1 as I believe it's miles better), is like those auto-retracting seatbelts the auto industry tried ~30 years ago.  While the safety concept was admirable, the implementaton left us all scratching our heads.  8.1 addressed a number of rough edges.  Hopefully the next Windows service pack will be like the airbags that eliminated those motorized seatbelt systems.

 
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