Monday, December 3, 2012

Week of 12/03/2012

What is Microsoft Doing?
– by David Matthews 2

When it comes to Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, I have one simple question…


That one question encompasses a whole bunch of other questions such as… Why now?  Why shove us into a new operating system that abandons pretty much everything we’ve been taught to adapt to with Windows 7?  Why should we care about upgrading?  What is it about Windows 8 that will make us want to abandon what we’ve been doing with the previous versions of Windows?

Instead of getting answers, we get slick mindless ads for their “Surface” tablets.  We hear about “live tiles” on the Windows cellphones.  We watch a little girl painting stuff that eventually gets printed up and posted on a bedroom wall while she talks to her father via Skype.  We see people dancing and prancing and doing acrobatics and pretending to be cool.

What is not being sold is why current Windows users should upgrade or even be excited about Windows 8.

There are many reasons why the push for Windows 8 at this time is just plain wrong, with timing being the first reason why.

It was only three years since Windows 7 came out, which was supposed to be better than Windows Vista, which was supposed to be better than Windows XP and Windows XP Media Center Edition.  And now that people are getting used to Windows 7, we’re being told that we now have to completely scrap everything we know about Windows and embrace the new “Live Tiles” concept with the big ugly boxes that you’re supposed to scroll on through with a flick of a finger… if the ads are to be believed.  (For the record, I’ve tried it.  It’s not to be believed.)

So people that have gotten used to XP get barely used to Vista, get shoved Windows 7 down their throats, and then three years later are told to scrap all of that for Windows 8.  Why?  Because some slick advertising campaign featuring leaping lunatics says it’s “cool”?

Timing also plays a key role when it comes to the business user… and that’s supposed to be important because Microsoft has always been known as the company that favors businesses with programs like the Microsoft Office suite.  Corporations do not embrace sudden change like Microsoft does, especially when that change affects their own operations.

I’ll give you an example: suppose you’re in a company that uses a specific proprietary program to function.  This program has worked for all the previous operating systems without too much difficulty… until Windows 7 comes along.  Windows 7 has a different kind of authentication security that doesn’t recognize the certificate from previous versions.  This means that your long-running proprietary program that your business relies on as part of its economic survival no longer works for computers that are running on Windows 7.  That company will not upgrade their computers if those computers cannot use that proprietary program.  It will destroy their company.  So now the company’s IT department have to find a way to either craft a new authentication certificate to recognize that proprietary program, or they have to completely redesign their proprietary program specifically for Windows 7 and then thoroughly test this program to make sure that it works.  All of that takes time.  We are talking months; not hours or days.  And now, while the IT people are still trying to get their company’s proprietary programs to work on Windows 7, here comes Windows 8.

There are companies that still use earlier operating systems for that very reason, and they are not going to rush to upgrade to anything that endangers their own operations.  That is a business fact of life that Microsoft needs to accept if they still want the business crowd.

Money is another reason why this is a bad time to shove a new operating system down our collective gullets.  America is still trying to get out of the Great Recession, something that our own government refuses to acknowledge is still going on, and that means that a lot of people don’t have the money to replace all of their computers just so they can use that new operating system.

Upgrade, you say?  That depends on whether or not their computer can handle it.  Here’s a hint: if your computer is still running on Windows XP, then it will not handle Windows 8 without spending a lot of money on hardware upgrades. 

Another established fact of life is that every new operating system requires more and more resources from that computer.  More hard drive space, more RAM, faster CPU speeds, and updated drivers for all of those peripherals, and not all of those things are readily available.  If Intel or NVidia or AVG decide to sunset a certain graphics card, then there will be no new drivers for that card.  In many cases, it would be cheaper to simply buy a new computer than to upgrade the one that you have, and if money is an issue, then neither option is viable.

This is why a lot of people are still using old computers with Windows XP or Vista on them.  Being stuck in the Great Recession means having to make do with what you have, and to hell with Moore’s Law.

Speaking of security, one of the new complaints about Windows 8 is that many of the major gaming companies are finding themselves shut out from all of the techno-pop celebrations.  If you play Worlds of Warcraft or Diablo 3, for instance, the developers of those programs have said that Windows 8 is a “catastrophe”.

Time for a little history lesson.  Remember when Bill Gates ran Microsoft in the 1990’s?  One of the things that he did that set Microsoft apart from Apple was that he pretty much handed out certifications to whoever wanted to develop programs for Windows.  Good programs, bad programs, mindless games, office applications, financial software, publishing aids, it didn’t matter.  It was far easier to develop those programs for Windows that it did for Apple, and that allowed Windows to become the dominant operating system.  You could walk into any computer store and find rows after rows of Windows programs, and then you’d be lucky if you saw only one rack set aside for programs designed for Apple.  Apple set their own bar too high to be competitive.

Now fast-forward to today: if you’re an online gamer and you’re being told by the developers of your favorite MMO that they cannot support your favorite program being used on Windows 8, do you really think that you’re going to be in a rush to upgrade your computer to that new operating system?  I didn’t think so.  Especially if you’re spending money on a regular subscription to that game.  All of the leaping lunatics dancing to techno-pop music will not change that fact.

Bear in mind that I understand where Microsoft is going with Windows 8.  I do.  Let’s get brutally honest here… Microsoft is trying to develop a sense of portability, just like Apple.  They want to be able to have your PC, tablet, cellphone, and Xbox game system all connected, so you can do common functions like check your email or watch a movie or play a game anywhere from any device.  So you can take a picture with your cellphone and send it to your other applications, or order a movie through Netflix on Xbox and then watch it on your tablet or cellphone.  That’s what the whole business with “Cloud” was about a few years ago; they’re just taking those things to the next step.

But just because I understand where they are going, that doesn’t mean that I agree with the method.  Windows 8 essentially turns your computer and tablet PC into glorified cellphones.  This is especially the case with the new cellphone-like applications that Windows 8 users will be able to acquire.

One may even argue that Windows 8 could be used to eliminate the personal computer altogether, since the operating system is designed to be used primarily by the touch-screen interfaces seen in tablet PCs and cellphones, instead of the traditional hands-off monitors and mouse-cursor peripherals of the desktop PCs.  One only has to look at the computer stores pushing laptops instead of desktop computers to see where the trend is heading.  I would hope that this is not the case, though, as there is still a use for the personal computer for the end-user.

The executives at Microsoft need to understand that they did not become the 800-pound gorilla that they are now by trying to be like Apple.  They became the major corporation that they are now because they reached out and encouraged development.  They didn’t shove things down our throats and told us to simply accept it. 

In other words, they out-did Apple by not behaving like Apple.

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