Windows 8 and Windows RT

This Friday, Microsoft is going to do something they have never done before.  They are going to release two different operating systems on the same day.  Yes. Two different operating system.  And yet, Microsoft has chosen to talk as little as possible about it.  That is a decision that is going to lead to some pretty significant confusion in the marketplace, especially in the tablet market.  The worst part: it was completely avoidable. October 26th marks both the release of the Microsoft Surface running Windows RT, as well as the general availability of Windows 8 on a variety of computers from various manufacturers.  On the Surface (pardon the pun), Windows RT and Windows 8 look identical.  But in many significant ways, they could not be more different.

Windows 8 is the, and I use this term loosely, “traditional” release.  If your computer can run Windows 7, it can run Windows 8.  Windows 8 features the Windows 8 metro experience, with the full screen apps, the tiles on the start screen, the Windows app store, etc.  Windows 8 also features a robust desktop environment that will run every application you have ever used, including the Microsoft Office suite.  In fact, I am typing this on Microsoft Word in Windows 8 right now.

Windows RT, on the other hand, is very different.  Sure, when you turn on a Windows RT device, you will see the same log in screen, start screen, and Metro apps you do on Windows 8.  You can even go into the desktop mode and find My Computer, My Documents, Notepad, Calculator, etc.  Everything that is built into Windows is present in Windows RT.  However, that is about where the similarities end.  What happens when you get your new Windows RT tablet and try to install iTunes on it?  It doesn’t work.

Windows RT runs on a different type of device than a traditional PC.  The processor in a Windows RT tablet is closer to what a smartphone runs than a traditional Intel PC processor.  That means that every piece of software that has been written for Windows in the last 17 years will not run on Windows RT.  iTunes, games, your favorite chat clients, tax software, everything.  There is no piece of software that is written for Windows on the desktop that will run on a Windows RT tablet.  None.  This is something that Microsoft is not talking about, and something that I think is actually a *really* big deal.  Not because it is a good or a bad thing, but because the consumer is not being properly educated.  I will be really interested to see what the reception to Microsoft Surface is when people start getting them on October 26th, and then immediately download iTunes only to find out that it won’t install.  I have a bad feeling that consumer satisfaction with Windows tablets is going to be very low initially because Microsoft is doing such a poor job explaining the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT.

What only adds to the confusion is the fact that in order to overcome a massive shortcoming in the Windows RT metro environment, Microsoft has created special versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote and include them with Windows RT, called Office 2013 RT.  These versions are visibily identical and have almost the exact same features as the upcoming Office 2013, but work on Windows RT, and are included on the device.  Boot up a Windows 8 device, and you do not get any version of office, you must pay separately for it.

Now, this is because Microsoft has not built a metro style office app suite yet, so the only way to include some kind of advanced office suite on Windows RT, they had to build these apps.  That also highlights another problem with this.  The Office RT apps on Windows RT are desktop apps.  To use them you must jump into the desktop mode, and these apps are the only apps outside of the built in Windows Apps that will run on Windows RT’s desktop mode.  This will only add to the confusion for users.  On one hand I can buy a Windows device that comes with Word, Excel, etc but I can’t install anything else on it, or another Windows 8 device that doesn’t have Office, but I can install whatever I want.  I understand why Microsoft needed to create Office for Windows RT, but it really is an absolute mess.

Microsoft could have avoided much of the confusion that is going to happen by really stressing and highlighting that Windows 8 and Windows RT are two different products, and making sure users know that existing apps will not work on devices like the Microsoft Surface RT.  Even Microsoft’s recently started advertising campaign is adding to the confusion.  There are separate advertisements for the Surface and for Windows 8, however they both show only the highlights of the Metro environment.  This could easily confuse people to thinking that the Surface runs Windows 8, not Windows RT.

Perhaps Microsoft will be very clear for people who are actually buying a Surface in store or any further online stores about the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT.  But in the short term, there is likely to be significant confusion, and it is unfortunate that it could have been easily avoided.

Here comes Windows 8

Windows 8 launches this week.  In a world where all of the consumer attention on shiny new things focuses on the newest smartphone or tablet, Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95. When Windows 95 was released in 1995 it represented the biggest change in computing to that point.  While Windows 3.x was a user interface that worked, it was still a compliment to MS-DOS and for many users, significant time was still spent in DOS, which was a high barrier entry for most.  Windows 95 changed that.  It was the first PC operating system to bury DOS, though technically it still ran on top of DOS like Windows 3.x did.  And it represented a complete change in user interface.  Windows 95 introduced the Start Menu and task bar, and was the first PC operating system that truly felt like a multi-tasking, multiple window graphical interface.  It was the first time where users were truly able to have multiple things running on their computer at the same time, and manage/see them all.  And remember, Windows 95 even came out before the internet was even known to most people.  The first shipping version of Windows 95 did not include Internet Explorer or even include the ability to connect to the internet!

But even still, Windows 95 represented the foundation for PC computing for the next 17 years.  Even Windows 7 at its core is still very much based on the UI that was introduced with Windows 95.  The start menu is still there, as is My Computer (now called 'Computer').  The task bar, though re-vamped, still has much of the same core functionality.  Windows 7 may look completely different than Windows 95 in terms of spit and polish, but in reality over the past 17 years Windows has remained largely the same.

That changes this week, in a big way.  I'm going to re-iterate what I said in the first paragraph:  Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95.  That cannot be understated.  Take everything you've ever learned about Windows, and throw it away.

I have been using Windows 8 at home since February. And at work since August.  Through this one thing has come through perfectly clear to me:  Windows 8 is a mobile operating system, not a traditional desktop operating system.  Until now, Windows has always truly been at its best running on a desktop computer with a large screen (or two) and as much processing power that can be thrown at it.  That is not the case for Windows 8.  I would actually argue that Windows 8 gets worse as you throw bigger and more screens at it.  A tablet or a smaller touchscreen laptop really is the ideal solution for Windows 8.  My dual 24” monitor setup at my desk at work really shows the weaknesses of Windows 8.

That being said, it isn’t all bad.  I think that Windows 8 on a purpose built device, like a touchscreen laptop, will be a good experience for most users.  However, there are going to be some serious growing pains getting there.  This is the first time when people will truly have to re-learn how to use a computer they have been using for the better part of two decades, and that is going to be a disaster.

We must also remember Windows RT, which is what runs on Microsoft’s surface tablet, and many coming tablets.  Windows 8 and Windows RT may look the same, but they are very different.  I will talk about that in my next post.

MacBook Pro - One year later

It has been about a year since I bought my first Apple Computer, a 13” MacBook Pro.  You can read my review here, and see my unboxing here.  What I want to do is revisit the MacBook Pro, and talk about my first year with it. First, the hardware.  I can say that even a year later the MBP is the best quality computer I have ever handled. It still feels solid, the hinge is still as good as it was when I first opened it, and nothing adverse has happened to the machine.  The build quality is seriously top notch, and I know that this computer will still be rocking like a tank long past it’s useful lifetime as an actual day to day computer.  The Battery life was advertised from Apple to be 7 hours.  When I first got the computer, under ideal circumstances I could get very close to that 7 hours, though around 6 was more realistic.  1 year later, and the battery is starting to degrade just a little bit, but nothing like other laptop batteries I have seen.  It does vary depending on use, but I am averaging around 5 hours of battery life, which is still very good, and battery life is rarely an issue for me.  A quick look at coconutbattery tells me I have discharged the battery about 175 times in the past year.

That being said, there are a couple of things I really wish the MBP had.  The screen resolution on my MBP is 1280x800, which is pretty low, even by 2009 standards.  Many 13” laptops come with 1366x768 displays now, which are capable of displaying 720p video full size.  Even the 2010 revision of the 13” MBP still only has a 1280x800 display.  This is one area where Apple really needs to step it up and catch up to it’s PC counterparts.  The other issue I have is with the limited USB ports on the computer. the 13” MBP only has 2 USB ports, and they are very close together.  For example, if I plug in my cruzer micro 16GB flash drive, it blocks the second USB port and I cannot use it.  the Cruzer Micro, despite it’s name, is not the smallest flash drive on the market, but it is definitely not large.  The casing is only about 1cm wider than the width of a USB port.  Apple really does need to space the USB ports out just a bit more.  I’d also really, really like a 3rd USB port.  9” netbooks have 3 USB ports, Apple really should put a 3rd USB port in.  There have been a few times where I really could have used it.

When it comes to the software side, I was really jumping into a new world. Sure, I’ve used OS X in the past, spent a couple semesters using Apple computers in school.  But beyond that, it was really my first foray into OS X.  I didn’t know much about the 3rd party software, and within a month of my computer purchase, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was released.

Long story Short, Snow Leopard is miles better than Windows XP, but that shouldn't be surprising, since Snow Leopard was released in 2009 and Windows XP was released in 2001.  Snow Leopard is also better than Windows Vista, but not by as much as people might think.  I’ve talked a lot about Windows Vista here, and won’t really rehash that.  Is Snow Leopard better than Windows 7?  No, it’s not.  Is Windows 7 better than Snow Leopard? The answer to that is also a no.  After a year of using both operating systems on a daily basis, I can honestly say that for the most part, they are pretty much comparable.  Sure, there are some things that Snow Leopard does better than Windows 7, and some things that Windows 7 does better than Snow Leopard, but at the end of the day, they are very comparable experiences.  I very much enjoy using Snow Leopard, but if someone took my MacBook Pro away from me and told me I had to use a Windows 7 laptop instead, I could do that without missing a step.  One of the main reasons I purchased an Apple laptop when I did is because I wanted to become proficient in both Windows ans OS X.  I am still better with Windows, I probably always will be, but I can also now switch between operating system environments without missing anything, or feeling like I’m lost, which really means that my goal has been accomplished.

One thing that I really have noticed in my time using both Windows and OS X, is that for probably 70% of what I do on a day to day basis, the platform I use doesn’t really matter.  Most of what I do regularily lives on the web. I use the gmail web interface, google docs, Facebook, and many more web applications.  I use desktop applications all the time as well, but some of them are even cross platform.  For the apps that aren’t, there are always equivalents on both platforms, and I have learned how to use most of them.  One of the only things I do now that I make a point of doing windows only is working with photos and videos, but the main reason for that is because my desktop computer is much more powerful and has much more screen space than my MacBook Pro.

The only applications I can honestly say that I was disappointed with has been the iWork suite.  Not so say the software itself isn’t good, but the fact that I work with word and excel documents all the time, and while Pages and Numbers support opening them, it is very hard to quickly work with and save .doc, .docx, .xls, and .xlsx files.  that was what actually finally pushed me to use google docs nearly full time.  I’m looking forward to trying Office 2011 for Mac, as I really do enjoy using the traditional Office suite.

Beyond that there really isn’t a whole bunch to say.  I love my MacBook Pro dearly, and really do think it is a wonderful computer, despite it’s few shortcomings.  Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned in the past year of using both platforms is that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what platform we use anymore.  Windows and OS X are each other’s peers, there is not one that is better than another, and so many people use the web so much now, that it truly doesn’t matter.  I know this is a tired argument, but I firmly believe that apple could hit a better market share if they simply lowered the price of their computers, but considering they just came out with their best quarter in the company’s history, I don’t see that happening.

Would I recommend an Apple Computer today?  Honestly, it’s not really a yes or a no answer.  If you are willing to spend more money for the computer, and don’t mind a couple weeks of a learning curve, by all means, go ahead.  But for most people, you don’t need to.  There will always be people who will buy only Apple Computers, and there is no problem with that.  If you really want to buy it, you will buy it.  If you don’t, I really don’t think anyone will miss a beat using Windows anymore.  Go with what you want, and what you are comfortable with.  You won’t be disappointed either way.