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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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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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1/27/2014 | 1:36:33 PM
Apple lucked out
What's the over/under on Apple having gone down the iOs/OSX convergence path prior to release of Win8, then sticking a fork in the projects after the reception Microsoft got in the market?

Just think about the benefits Apple got by letting MS take the lead into uncharted territory for once. You can't pay for that kind of market research.

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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1/27/2014 | 1:44:52 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
There's some evidence to support your theory, Lorna. Apple has patents related to touchscreen MacBooks, tablets that convert into laptops and even an iMac, and a solar-powered iPad-attachable keyboard, among other things. Some of these patents pre-date Windows 8 by quite some time. That said, Apple is interesting and hard-to-predict when it comes to pushing new technologies. Sometimes, Apple kills a popular idea before the market has shown it's ready. Flash, floppy disks, etc. It also pushes forward-thinking ideas that are important to niches but not mainstream users-- firewire, thunderbolt, and so on. But in other cases, Apple sits on technologies until it feels they're mature enough to bring to market. Based on recent hires, Apple is clearly working on wearable devices, for example, but it seems unconcerned that its iWatch (or whatever) beat any other products to market.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 1:46:54 PM
The question of why
We need to remember that Apple and Microsoft are coming at this from different directions not because of some major difference in thinking, but rather because of practical considerations. Let's look at the two companies. Apple has a small but growing Mac business. They redefined smartphones, and came up with the first usable tablet. As a result, they have very well selling products in the mobile space. At the same time, they don't cater to enterprise use of Macs. Nevertheless, Macs are now growing rapidly in business. Part of that is due to the iPhone becoming so popular in business, and government, as well as the iPad. This allows Apple to do what it wants to do, slowly. It has the sales now. Whatever convergence they will end up with can be evolved over years, and has been. Microsoft, on the other hand, is the business and government computing environment. It has the vast percentage of sales there, and consumer sales of Windows is a direct result if people buying, over the years, what they used at work. But, in mobile, Microsoft has been shut out. The iPhone changed smartphones foever, and made them into the major area of growth for the industry, rather than a small 10% share of cellphone sales to business and government. This killed Win mobile, along with the other major competitors. Microsoft has not made it back from that. In addition, Microsoft had no presence in the tablet market. These two problems were a conundrum for Microsoft. Win Phone 7 was a stopgap measure using the old, discredited CE for a base, and went nowhere. But it was the first attempt for Microsoft to get back in the mobile race, which they, belatedly, saw as being much more important than they did at first, when Ballmer dissed the original iPhone. But the ipad already came out, and, of course, as to be expected, Gates dissed that as well. But as PC sales began to tremble, and then fall from increased sales of tablets, Microsoft was caught short. How to get people to buy a Microsoft phone and tablet became a major concern. As Win Phone was doing poorly, Microsoft had a dilemma. If people weren't buying the Metro devices, how could they get them to? Well, the answer, as we see, was to force it upon people with Win 8. In the last, it didn't really matter what Microsoft did. Even with vista, Microsoft knew that an updated version (especially after the Great Recession, which also held sales back) would mKe up for the lost vista sales. This was nothing new, and was expected, and it was exactly what was happening. But Microsoft could finally see that in the long run, that may no longer work with BYOD happening, not only for phones, but for tablets, and even computers. So they figured that with Metro, now the Modern UI, people would be forced to use this new mobile UI, and would like it, or at least, get used to it, so that it would influence their mobile purchasing. They even announced that the desktop would eventually go away!a nd that the Modern UI would bet he future of Windows. 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. They needed to do it quickly, or get burned. So we had Win Phone 7. Really Win mobile with a UI taken from the doomed Zune HD. Why they would think that would be popular can be talked about for years. I think that one reason was that Apple and Microsoft have a major cross licensing deal in place that prevents Microsoft from copying anything Apple does in UI or usability concepts. So they had nowhere to go quickly, and so looked at the Zune HD, and decided that would be a good base on which to build. But that was designed for a small handheld device, not a tablet, and most assuredly, not a desktop, with its large screen and keyboard/mouse. But it was what they had, and could get out quickly, As so often happens, they were too close to the development, and no doubt became excited by it, not seeing the flaws that others saw after release. So we have from them what we see. An OS that simply isn't suited to the desktop (Modern UI), combined with an OS that simply isn't suited to a tablet (Win 7). RT had apparently failed, so nowhere to go there. Now, Microsoft is finding itself backing off on the Modern UI for the desktop, and just how far is anyone's guess. Where are they going to go with tablets is also anyone's guess, as even the Pro isn't selling all that well. I see estimates of total Windows tablet sales that seem well above actual sales. I only know one person who has bought one, a Pro, which he is now ridding himself of, as his employer, IBM has given him an iPad Air, which I suppose says volumes about where Windows tablets are going. So Microsoft has found themselves between the old rock and a hard place, with nowhere to go. If they can't slip out, they will be ground to dust. It will take time, but it will happen, and devices isn't going to save them.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 1:48:43 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Don't think so. There's no evidence that Apple ever intended to go that route at all. It's just speculation on your part that they may have. What I think has been happening is in my other post.
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.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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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. 
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 | 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.
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.
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.
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