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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melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 4:23:53 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I would also like to say that Steve Jobs was said to have a reality distortion field. A writer, I forget his name, disagreed. He said that Steve jobs had a reality creation field. I believe that that was one of the most Insightful comments on it that I ever read.
melgross
IW Pick
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 4:17:31 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
Well, there is the well known, and successful, concept of creating customer demand for a product, or service, that didn't exist before. This goes all the way back to pre history. Was there a demand for fire before it wasn't invented/discovered? How about the wheel? Bow and arrow? Coming closer, we can look at the Roman invention of concrete, or the arch. How about books? Magazines? Guns? Then we have the railroad, the automobile, the steamship, and ships in general. The fax, radio, tv, movies, Xerography, computers. Where do we start, and where do we end? Every invention, including the plow, weren't thought about until someone did, and invented it. Almost everything created a market, and a customer base. How about the steam engine, or the gasoline engine? So what about the question about customer demand again? It isn't whether there's demand, because unconsciously, there certainly is. It's about finesse. Microsoft doesn't have it. Maybe Apple does. I've stated my thoughts on this a number of times. The concept is that the OS would show the attributes required for a specific device, that would mean showing UI elements that would work for a small mobile device, such as a phone, a medium sized device, such as a tablet, both not requiring a hardware keyboard, and a "classic" desktop, which likely would. As Apple has it, the underlying OS is Unix. No reason all devices couldn't run the same apps. But the apps could distribute their own UI elements according to the device they were running on. To me, the ideal would be to purchase one app. That Apple could, using iCloud, install across all of your devices, as it does with iOS now. But here, it would install on OS X as well. However, the app would know what it's installing on, and arrange itself so that it would have the most appropriate UI and feature set for each device. So a phone would get the easiest, and best suited for that small screen, with the least ability to edit, or create. The iPad to be a big step up, and the desktop would be the fullest experience. But each move up the scale would result in a smooth accumulation of features and sophisticated usage.To all intents and purposes, this would appear to have a completely converged OS, even though that may not actually be the case inside. It's what I believe Apple is moving towards, and something like what I also believe Microsoft attempted to do all at once, but not really, if you know what I mean. Apple likely has the ability to do this. I don't think anyone else can. Google is a mess right now with Chrome and Android. Microsoft is Microsoft.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2014 | 3:59:31 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
To a certain extent you are correct. But the thrust of your post is wrong. Apple does innovate. Apple has been able to risk everything on ideas that at are either theirs, or are something they've seen that doesn't work well enough to become popular, or even functional. So a company may invent something that no company wants to use, or can get to use. Apple gets it to work well, and makes it a standard on their own devices. Then, after a while, everyone else follows. So, yes, that is innovation. But Apple does a lot more than that.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 3:49:20 PM
Re: Apple lucked out
I'm curious about what an Apple hybrid device UI would look like. Apple would merge the two platforms more seamlessly than Frankenstein Windows 8. But I don't see the motivation for doing it at all. There's no customer demand. And say what you want about Apple -- but the customer comes first. Windows 8 had little to do with customer needs, but was an effort -- and a clumsy one -- to solve a bunch of Microsoft's own problems at once (revive dying PC market, get into tablets). Microsoft rolled the dice and hoped we would go along with it.
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.
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.
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.
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 | 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. 
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.
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