There’s an old saying… “You can please some of the people, some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” With that in mind, Microsoft has appeared to have taken it one step further… pleasing none of the people all of the time. Now try and keep up, because it’s a bit technical, but I’ll endeavor to explain it in simple enough terms that anyone.. computer savvy or not.. will be able to understand.
Microsoft, 6 years after Apple showed you could run a desktop class operating system on a smartphone, decided that they would roll their desktop OS and mobile OS into a single unit so that they could concentrate funds and effort on one OS instead of 2 or more. The first step in this move was Windows Phone 7. The flat, non-skeuomorphic, “live tile” mobile OS for smart phones set the stage. Then, last fall, the released Windows 8. It’s pretty rare that the entire interface of an OS is changed, primarily because it confuses the living shit out of most users, and there’s really no reason to change unless some game changing advance happens.
In the end, Microsoft wound up with an OS that is not fitting for either a desktop or a tablet. Way back, “In the beginning”, when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone, he talked about how typical smart phones of the day had “baby software”. Very low end apps that left much to be desired. The “fix” for this was for iPhone to run OS X. OS X had all the features they needed, networking, email, power management… the works. Not only that, OS X presented a stable platform to build “desktop class software” for the iPhone. However, this new “branch” of OS X development (for mobile devices) was clearly different enough from OS X that Apple quickly began to refer to this flavor of OS X as iPhoneOS. Ultimately, because iPads and iPod touches (plus future devices) run (or will run) this new mobile version that Apple dropped the phone and simply renamed it to iOS. So, while Apple was splitting OS X into two OS’s, one for desktops, and one for mobile devices, Microsoft decided to go the other direction by melding the OS’s into one.
This is a good move in terms of development costs because you’re only developing one OS, on the other hand though, you wind up creating on OS that’s not quite right for either device. Add to that Microsoft’s decision to make things confusing to the average Joe, and not taking into consideration that the vast majority of consumers are not particularly computer savvy.
For example, the Microsoft Surface tablet runs “Windows RT”, not “Windows”. What’s Windows RT? It’s the tablet/phone version of Windows that’s designed to work much like the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad with a curated, single channel marketplace for adding software to the device. Now, if you look closely at a Surface tablet, you’ll notice there’s a “Desktop” tile. Now if you click on this tile, it takes you to the standard windows desktop! Wow! A Windows PC on a tablet !!! … or not. If you try to install “desktop” software designed for PC’s (that run “real” Windows OS), the tablet fesses up by saying “This software is not compatible with Windows RT”. They may have well just said “This is NOT a Windows computer, even though we duped you into buying it”, because we essentially advertised it a such, if not directly, then indirectly. So, the tablet you thought was a Windows computer, turns out it’s not. For the same reason iPads don’t run OS X software, tablets are tablets, and not full blow desktop class hardware.
Ok, now let’s flip the script… On the PC, Windows 8 confuses the users by dumping them off on this new “Start” screen, so what is this “Start” screen anyways… it’s the “desktop” for all the RT apps, apps designed to run on the phone and tablets. Huh?? You mean I bought this brand new 8 core i7 with 32 GB of RAM, and all the bells and whistles that come with a fresh new PC, and you want me to browse the web and retrieve my email and Skype with my buddies using software that was built for tablets and phones that don’t have the capability of running desktop apps? WTF? So either way you slice it, it’s a loose/loose situation. Tablets are not Windows PCs and Windows PCs push you to use tablet/phone apps.
Now, let’s try and figure out Microsoft’s logic here… the Microsoft Surface runs $550 bucks in round numbers, the iPad, $500. So, what Microsoft is saying is, we want you to pay $50 more than an iPad for a device that isn’t even a Windows PC. Perhaps of it was a true desktop class hunk of hardware, it might be worth more than an iPad because at least you could run desktop Windows software. To boot, they’re doing this going up against the iPad, which holds about 88 percent of the tablet market. So, to recap, the board meeting must have gone like this… “Ok, guys, we’re going to make a tablet to compete with the Godzilla of tablets, it’ll cost $50 more, and, it won’t be a true Windows device… don’t worry guys, we’ll get by because most people are too naive to understand the difference, and they’ll never realize that they blew all that money on a fresh new PC with all the latest hardware just so they can run phone apps.” Sure, the desktop version of Windows 8 (read true Windows) does have the desktop, which actually works… but you have to deal with Windows constantly pushing you in the direction of the Start Screen, and it’s mobile apps.
Now, I believe Microsoft has realized this, and that’s why they quickly came out with the Surface Pro, which runs full blown Windows 8, and actually has a reason to have a desktop tile. However, at about $1000 bucks, who the hell is going to invest in one when people bitch about the iPad, which costs HALF that??? Apple defined the tablet market with the iPad, and iPad sales vs (all other tablet sales… Android and Windows combined), dwarfs the entire rest of the industry, and Microsoft actually thinks that they’ll compete with an iPad level device that is $50 more, and has far less in terms of market apps compared to all the iPhone and iPad apps that run on an iPad vs the paltry selection available in the Windows Store.
Apple has brought much of what they’ve learned making the iPhone and iPad to the Mac, but they’ve kept the Mac separate from the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch world. For example there’s now a Mac Store much like the App Store, but for Mac apps. Also, many of the iPhone bred goodies like app notifications, Face Time, Twitter/Facebook integration and more have been brought to the Mac, but in a version befitting a full blown OS. Apple tends to look at it like… we have more power, what more can we do make it that much better. Microsoft has gone the other direction by saying, here, use this mobile app on your shiny new PC, we didn’t bother to write an app that takes advantage of the more powerful hardware.
I personally think that Microsoft really dropped the ball by advertising the Surface Pro as a tablet, when they should be advertising it as a full blow PC. These days, the majority of so called “desktop” units sold are notebook computer (laptops). So, considering a notebook, desktop, and Surface Pro all can be had for about the same amount of money, which would you rather have? I’d go for the pro personally, well, I would if I didn’t do alot of work in Blender and Photoshop. I’m one of those who needs a true desktop, or at a bare minimum, high end (think $4,000 or so), laptop. However, if I were the typical user, a Surface Pro presents a device more mobile than a notebook, and just about as powerful as a like priced notebook PC.
At the end of the day, Microsoft set out to create a one-size-fits-all operating system, and in the end came up with a OS that doesn’t function particularly well in either device. PC sales certainly show it, with recent figures showing PC sales are down double digits (about 11 percent). People are so scared of Windows 8 that they’re waiting to see what pans out before making a decision, or, worse yet for the Windows world, defecting to Apple for the likes of a Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, or an iMac not to mention Mac Mini or Mac Pro for the high end users.