I don't want to be a Christmas stealing Grinch, but because it’s an election year the hype-o-meter began to peg last summer and it’s stressing me out. Silly me, I worry about value, I consider whether products are the best they could be instead of what they are. The average consumer may not notice a quality deficit because of well-known disease acronym SSF (seasonal feeding frenzy), but I hope expression of my mildly damning opinion might be useful nonetheless.
Before you purchase please consider business plans of these major players:
Per the previous blog post (Meh!), Apple is a hardware company so it must roll out new devices to maintain meteoric capitalization gains. In the past Apple's various laptop and desktop offerings weren't designed as throwaway, in fact there are many older iMacs, towers, even older Mac laptops that are regularly renewed and kept in service. But this isn’t optimal for Apple's business model so its devices are now sold with the expectation of planned obsolescence.
Google (Android/Chrome) is an advertising company, great at collaboration and data mining, but their UI (User Interface) department was originally staffed by old remote control designers (getting better but still crude). They throw stuff at walls, hope for adhesion and some of it does stick (watch the Chromebook, I think it has real potential, very inexpensive). Google's current and future business model is to make people use the web, and they've already amassed a fortune through search. They dabble in software and devices, but it’s all in service of advertising click-through.
Microsoft, is a software company. To maintain profitability (but not increased capitalization, its stock price hasn't really moved since the discovery of fire) Microsoft must sell software. And now we have the next iteration of its operating system, Windows 8.
Short term corporate guidance for consumer technology requires advertising departments concentrate on the next black Friday, while long term earnings (aka the long tail) gradually decline. Several years may seem to be quick turnover, but it’s actually epochal. The 'net, and its corresponding uptick in consumer use, spans significantly less than twenty years for most users. Therefore, an OS (operating system) life of 10 years, or even 5, is huge.
Microsoft, unlike our confused and dysfunctional congress, sort of plays for the short and long term simultaneously. With Windows 8 Microsoft chose not to make a traditional office user appeal (read mouse/keyboard). Rather they've made a major shift, analyzing today's younger users and concluding that they don't give a hoot about anyone's desktop. And why should they? Their lives can be managed, archived (visually, at least), shared and minimally annotated in only a smartphone, so why should/would they bother with a content creation thingy, collaboration, or a winning corporate strategy? Touch is the new mouse, swipe the new UI (user interface), instant, capricious sharing the new privacy. So this currently immature demographic is rightly projected to shape the long tail of business, even though mobile habits don’t upscale well (yet).
Make no mistake, under the hood, Windows 8 has some clear advantages over the current, most used OS, Windows 7. Many of those improvements are devised to mitigate Microsoft's reputation as a virus prone, complicated operating system that shouldn't be gifted to a grandmother. It also shifts user focus to the cloud.
Grammy might be a good candidate for Windows 8 if the platform was intuitive, but it's not. Windows 7 has the best Microsoft UI ever, but has no natural parallel, it's rather an acquired taste. For instance, how might Grammy intuit whether to click twice or once and on what, right click, or drop menus to make complicated command choices (what does save as actually mean?). Credit Steve Jobs, he moved computing into the next big user interface (iPad, iPhone, iPad Touch), wherein much of how people interact with computational devices can be divined by a three year old in five minutes.
Moreover, average consumers don't really need Word and Excel, they want to listen to music, watch YouTube, use Facebook, messaging, Skype, read/comment on Twitter and old-fashioned email (decreasing). While it was once true that a classic, complicated computer was necessary to accomplish basic tasks, it's no longer necessary, so the marketplace is hatching a new species.
Many computers as we've known them are wasting away, some dying in in closets, many more retire to filthy landfills, others are renewable upgrade candidates. Most of their owners grew up with mouse moves and keyboard shortcuts so Microsoft could continue to distribute Windows 7 until Windows 8 was fully baked. After all, Windows 7 is an excellent operating system if properly managed (it often isn’t), but consumer sales projections for an already saturated marketplace won't support outrageous executive salaries and operating/development costs. Notwithstanding those customers looking for an inexpensive computer experience, like cash strapped parents with kids in school, ‘tis the season to be spending. Pandering to the seasonal frenzy, MS forces (on new computers) an immature release, claiming it to be an improvement over 7, so just get over it. Unlike anything that Apple releases, 8 is not causing much of a stir, except for controversy. Good riddance. Darwinian.
Windows 8 is a mobile centric UI trying to hop the desktop barrier. If Microsoft had only released Windows 8 for mobile only (including phones, tablets, touch-enabled laptops) it might have been a reasonable hit, and if price competitive even a runaway hit. Instead Microsoft looked five(?) years ahead and decided that todays business model (woo consumers but cater to business) is running on fumes. Business (the Microsoft cash cow) isn't going to embrace Windows 8 soon, most of them are just getting around to 7), so any move for MS must be better than no move at all (perhaps true).
Now if aforementioned Grammy (or any user) can suffer through the Windows 8 learning curve on a non-touch device she'll be in less danger than with XP or even 7. Viruses have a harder time getting a grip inside this new OS, applications of questionable lineage are often rejected and any Metro application (like Weather, Calendar, People, etc.), when not on screen, is actually taken out of active memory, much like Apple's iOS handles the issue of multitasking (not multitasking really, it's just taking a snapshot of the application's state, freezing it for future reference and resurrecting on demand). This all combines to make a more stable, less power hungry operating system, but I don’t think mobile 8 will unseat iPad as the runaway winner of the tablet wars this season. Moreover, Windows 8 laptop/tablet hardware isn’t mature, so the devices on which the Microsoft version of intuitive(?) user interface must reside, except mobile phones, are not ready.
So I conclude that Windows 8, when used on any device without touch, is disruptive lipstick applied to a stable pig (Windows 7). When used on a hybrid tablet (touch, keyboard and mouse enabled) the experience does get better.
The RT version of Windows 8 is a pure mobile play, distributed on devices like the Surface RT. It's important to note that regular Windows applications won't work at all on RT; they must be specifically designed for that platform and developers developers are only nibbling at the bait. RT is designed for devices with limited horsepower but doesn't yet satisfy the needs of traditional Windows users, probably because it straddles the fence between desktop and mobile, so it’s neither fish nor fowl. Baring some surprising uptick in device availability I'm going to wait before purchasing a dedicated, touch-screen Windows 8 device. Hopefully Microsoft will learn the art of successful iteration, read design shift, so stay tuned for Windows Blue.
But for now, if you're purchasing a new Windows 8 computer, and it doesn’t have touch, I say fugetaboutit. If you're trying to minimize the financial hit and there is a Windows 7 option you'll find some great bargains out there, particularly in laptops. Plus, 'tis not the season for deferring purchases, the American economy seems to depend on it (unfortunate). However, if you’re considering an OS upgrade to old hardware, Windows 8 is the least expensive upgrade yet. I’ve done it on two conventional computers and it’s a pain, but more like a toothache that comes and goes.
Next up: I don't know. Writing about technology is a dish best served quickly.