Windows 10: We Wants It

Windows 10 on laptop

Microsoft

Let’s face it. Microsoft consistently manages to mail it in every other version, a tradition dating back to Windows 95/98. Remember Windows ME? You don’t? It causes fits of laughter even within Microsoft. By the people who worked on it.

But then Windows XP, despite its leaky security, was so stable that there are still XP installs out there. (If you have one, you really need to upgrade. It’s a hack waiting to happen now that it’s not patched and updated. And IE6. Ick.)

But then they updated to Windows Vista. Um… What the hell was that? Missing drivers, balky interface… And what were these fences? Did anyone ever figure that out? No! They just upgraded to Windows 7. And Windows 7 was awesome! This blog post was written on a Windows 7 machine. Technically, Windows 7 is actually Windows 6.5. XP was Windows 5. Windows 8 was even officially dubbed Windows 7 during its early development. It’s really Windows NT 7.0 or 7.1 if you have the updated version.

But then Steve Ballmer decided that, because Apple upgrades OS X frequently, Microsoft needed to do the same with Windows. Enter Windows 8, which did away with the Start button as we know it and gave us…

Tiles? Some genius decided that your laptop should look just like your tablet or your phone. Yeah, this from Steve Ballmer, a man who introduced corporate cannibalism as a management technique to Microsoft. Users hated it. I have it on a Surface Pro, and for a touchscreen machine, it’s not bad. But…

I have a laptop and a tower. I use another tower at work. The tiles work great on the Surface and my wife’s phone. On full-blown PCs and servers? Not so much.

Well, Ballmer’s gone. Satya Nadella, a techie like founder Bill Gates, is in charge. And all this nonsense about “one experience across all devices” is gone. Windows 10, available in preview, is almost ready for prime time. The Start button is back. Internet Explorer is about to be replaced. All the under-the-hood goodness that makes Windows 8 run well is in Windows 10 without the ugly interface. (Still, this is technically Windows NT 8. What happened to 9? Microsoft is afraid you’ll confuse it with Windows 95.) And the tiles?

Gone!

They’ll be on the phones, maybe on the Surface (I hope not.), but your PC will remain your PC.

This is something Ballmer should have picked up on. Apple uses iOS for iPads and iPhones. PCs and laptops use OS X. Chromebooks use the ChromeOS. Tablets and phones use Android. Same code base in both cases, different interfaces and functionality. No one wants the iPad interface on a Mac, and no one wants to use Android on a netbook.

Best of all, if you have Windows 7 or Windows 8, Microsoft will let you have Windows 10. Free. They want everyone on one version of Windows. Easier to support. Easier to secure. Easier to upgrade.

About time, Microsoft.

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What Windows Needs

Finally, at long last, Microsoft is ditching their technologically challenged CEO Steve Ballmer. We all know why Steve got the job. He was there to continue the will of Bill, as in Gates, after the company’s founder retired. Gates is still chairman of Microsoft, but he’s focused more on his humanitarian efforts these days. The problem is that Ballmer is no Bill Gates. He’s definitely not Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt of Google. He isn’t even Oracle’s Larry Ellison. He’s a Jack Welch wannabe who introduced corporate cannibalism into Microsoft’s management strategy and tolerated the tone-deaf delusions of Windows chief Steven Sinofsky long after it became apparent Sinofsky had no clue what it was users wanted.

All that is neither here nor there. By the fall of 2014, there will be a new person at the helm of Microsoft, and it remains to be seen if anyone can reinvent the company that broke into Xerox’s house with Apple and stole the TV known as the graphical user interface. (That’s based on a hilarious response from Gates when Steve Jobs complained that the GUI was Apple’s idea. Jobs later said he thought that was pretty funny, too.)

The problem is Microsoft’s flagship product, Windows. When Windows 7 came out, it was as close to perfect as Microsoft was ever going to get: Intuitive, familiar, stable, and very user friendly. If Windows 7 became a pain to load on your PC, it almost always could be blamed on the manufacturer. I know because what used to be Compaq builds HP’s computers these days, and almost always, I have to download drivers and strip crapware off of HP machines. It hearkens back to the days when Compaq used to put their own interface over Windows. Dude, I’m sticking with Dell. (My current and previous employer swear by them.)

Then came Windows 8, inexplicably designed with the idea that people wanted their tablets, phones, and PC’s to all look alike. Wrong. OS X looks nothing like iOS. The Chome OS touted by Google looks nothing like Android (though the two will eventually share the same kernel). Why? You’re phone is not a PC, and your laptop is not a tablet. Windows 8 is a ham-fisted, poorly thought-out attempt by Microsoft to outsmart Google and Apple.

The idea of using Windows to run tablets and phones is not a bad idea. I’ve heard people find the “Metro” interface looks fine on the Surface and on Windows phones. It looks horrible and is confusing on laptops and PC’s. Hence, Windows 8.1 now has an option to default to the desktop.

So what does Windows need to survive the next decade?

  • Device-sensitive interface: No one wants Metro (I know. They had to drop the name. Too bad. That’s what everyone calls it now) on their desktop, Xbox, or laptop. No one wants a Start button on their phone or their tablet. Windows already has built-in functionality to know what device it’s running on. It’s maybe a couple dozen lines of C++ code to figure out which interface to use based on that.
  • Integrate Office into Windows. Seriously, no one wants Office 365, and those of us supporting Office in business environments find Office 2013 next to useless, particularly in small companies that can’t afford to upgrade their email server every time Microsoft wants to wring a few more pennies out of its user base. Besides, there’s really nothing more you can do to Office to make it better. It’s ubiquitous, and free open-source alternatives are starting to catch up. Not only that, Corel still makes Word Perfect, fully compatible and cheaper. Come to think of it, Corel has been making Adobe it’s bitch of about a decade now by creating cheaper and robust alternatives to Adobe’s product line. If they smell blood in Redmond, it wouldn’t be hard to convince a few penny-pinching IT departments to switch. If Office is part of Windows at no extra charge, you pretty much own that customer base.
  • Lose the app store. It’s my least favorite aspect of mobile device computing. I don’t like Google Play, and I don’t like having to go to Apple to get apps.
  • Embrace open source. Look, we all use Windows. OK? Even some Mac Heads own a cheap Windows box as a backup. Making Windows open source let’s you charge for the OS , but you get the add-ons and development for free. If IBM had figured this out about 10 years sooner, it’d be an OS/2 vs. OS X world. And OS/2 in its time was a much better operating system. Now it’s like the Amiga, a curiosity for extreme geeks.
  • Ditch the current business model. Look, the gravy train is going to end. If you don’t get off soon, it’ll end badly, leaving Microsoft more like the BUNCH companies that competed with IBM in the mainframe days than, say, Ford Motor, still one of the largest companies in the world despite the decline and near collapse of the American auto industry.
  • Hire someone design-minded to be in charge. Apple knows this. They have Johnny Ives, and even their miscues are better than most other companies’ hits. A design-minded executive will keep Windows’ (and Office’s) interface consistent across versions and make the OS more intuitive. Yes, you have some brilliant people working for you in Redmond, but they’re clueless as to whom they’re selling to. At some point, the door will be forever closed to any phone or tablet not running iOS or Android, and eventually, Ubuntu will make an interface so user-friendly that people will wonder why they even pay for an operating system on the bigger boxes.And then Microsoft will be the next Studebaker. How ’bout them 2014 Larks? Oh, wait. They ceased production in 1966.

A Modest Proposal: Multiple Windows

I am still trying to figure out what sort of crack they were smoking in Redmond when they came up with Windows 8 and its migraine-inducing interface. No one will accuse Microsoft of being design geniuses, but the smartest thing they ever did was to put a Start button on your desktop. It’s the one thing that makes Windows Windows.

Of course, the Start button emerged on the watch of Bill Gates. Who was in charge when this fustercluck hit market?

steve-ballmer

Source: Microsoft

Yeah, this idiot. Steve Ballmer. The man who thinks corporate cannibalism is cutting edge management. There are some things Microsoft has gotten right, but they’re all on the development side. (Which makes me happy. I write C# over SQL Server. Anything that hurts Oracle is a good thing.) So what did this genius decide to do with Windows in the tablet era?

Make Windows a tablet operating system that runs on a PC. Know who else does that?

NOBODY!

Not even Google. While Google has announced plans to merge its Chrome and Android operating systems at some point, but Chrome will still run on laptops while Android will run on tablets and phones. So when will we see iOS on Macs?

Never.

As it should be.

So, a modest proposal for Microsoft before they’re forced to become a consulting firm like IBM: Well, you all know my feelings on Steve Ballmer. He desperately needs to become an unemployment statistic. But moreover, let’s do this with Windows. Instead of the visual atrocity that is Windows 8, let’s make Windows 9 a new and improved Windows 7. Keep Windows 8 for the tablet. And the phones?

Hire someone from Apple to fix it.

Steve Ballmer Must Go. Now.

steve-ballmer

Source: Microsoft

Remember in 1995 when Microsoft brought out Windows 95? They made the PC easy to use in comparison to its earlier DOS-based predecessor. That spooked Apple so badly (Well, let’s be honest. So did Apple’s bottom line.) that they brought back Steve Jobs from exile. Microsoft created Office, made Excel virtually the only spreadsheet anyone in corporate America uses. (Yes, I know. There are other spreadsheets. I probably even know most of the two dozen people who use them.) Chances are, your work email is on Outlook.

Well, all that happened in the 1990’s. Wanna know why it took until 2012 for them to come up with the Surface tablet? Oh, they had one years before the iPad was even on Steve Jobs’ radar. It ran Windows 2000 and needed a stylus. Um… Yeah.

So what else has Microsoft done lately? The Zune. Windows Vista. How about Windows 8, which has the most idiotic interface of any modern operating system. And what is the cloud-based system called this week? It used to be Azure. Maybe it’s Azure again. Or maybe…

The problem is Bill Gates retired. Yes, Bill Gates was a ruthless businessman who thought nothing of riding roughshod over competitors. All the while, Microsoft was considered hip, the company that upstaged stuffy old IBM at their own game. But when Bill retired, he put in charge his right-hand man. The Pope Benedict to his John Paul II. Steve Ballmer.

Love Microsoft. Hate them. You can’t deny that, since Gates’ departure, it has been a rudderless ship. Not only has Apple overtaken them as the most valuable company in the world, but Google has pwned them with not one but two operating systems. Yes, the Don’t Be Evil people are Apple’s biggest competitors, not Microsoft. No one uses a Zune. If you don’t own an iPod, you probably use your phone, which is either an iPhone or an Android, with Blackberry getting most of the scraps.

When Gates ran Microsoft, developers and engineers tripped over themselves trying to score some sweet office space in Redmond. Now they stay in the Bay Area, where the only pariah of late is Oracle (the database company who is the only outfit Microsoft seems to be handing its lunch.) And in Redmond? In an attempt to emulate Jack Welch at General Electric, Ballmer has implemented a cannibalistic means of internal competition that has stifled creativity and resulted in brand confusion. The result?

Have you seen Windows 8 lately?

Time for Steve to pick up on the Pope Benedict comparison and retire.

Failing that, how soon do you think HP and Dell can switch to a user-friendly version of Ubuntu?

Whither Microsoft?

A strange thing has happened over the past few years.

Do you Bing? More likely, you Google.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you probably have a Droid. Or a Blackberry. Or you’re thinking, “I just want a damn cell phone!”

Do you have a Zune? You probably have an iPod, or you use your smartphone, which probably is a Droid, an iPhone, or a Blackberry.

Most of us still own PC’s, which one recent Dilbert strip referred derisively to as “grandpa boxes.” I don’t believe the PC’s demise is as imminent as some pundits are hyping. There are too many of them in offices around the world that won’t be going away anytime soon. And as long as laptops (Well, Windows laptops, anyway) continue to drop in price, they’re likely not going anywhere for a while. In fact, the machine this post was written on cost less than 1/3 of the machine it replaced, which was purchased in 2005.

So what happened? Microsoft once owned the world. Bill Gates once boasted that you had to go back to the Roman Empire to find an organization as influential as Microsoft. Methinks Bill was full of it, but you could understand how he might have believed it.

Now? We live in the post-Microsoft world. They no longer set the trends. Companies follow Google in search and content delivery. Apple leads the way in tablet and smartphone technology. And the cloud that Bill Gates once said he’d like to use to deliver Microsoft  apps? Well, that’s Amazon.

There is no Microsoft ereader. The Zune is dead. And Windows Phone is just holding on. So what happens to Microsoft?

You may not see where Microsoft excels these days, but I see it in my job. .Net is a far more stable development environment than Java (IBM and Android’s implementations notwithstanding). Apps can be developed on it for the web and backed with SQL Server. What’s SQL Server? It’s a database management system that is just as robust and versatile as its biggest competitors, Oracle, IBM’s DB2, and MySQL. Unlike Oracle, Microsoft is not interested in wringing SQL Server users’ wallets dry. Sure, you have to pay for Azure, but that’s Software As A Service (SAAS). Since SQL Server 2005, there has been a free option, as well as a tiered pricing for various higher end versions. And unlike MySQL, Oracle won’t be buying it out to leave it whither on the vine anytime soon.

If this looks familiar, it should. IBM used to be front and center in business and personal computing. Even after Y2K, some people still referred to the dichotomy between PC’s and Macs as IBM vs. Mac. Never mind that DOS and the old Macintosh System had long headed for the scrap heap. But IBM realized it couldn’t compete forever making PC’s and mainframes. They retooled. Their core product is now the iSeries platform, which includes IBM’s native install of Java, Apache, and its DB2 platform. You don’t see IBM in your home because they don’t do consumer computing anymore. Well, they do. They’re part owners of China’s Lenovo, who bought out IBM’s PC business. But Lenovo lags behind Dell and Acer in home sales, where most of your computers go.

The Big 3 of computing are no longer IBM, Sun, and Microsoft.  It’s now Apple, Amazon, and Google, all consumer-facing organizations. So whither Microsoft?

Microsoft will continue to thrive, as soon as it ditches its revenge-obsessed CEO Steve Ballmer, in the business arena. Like IBM, it will reinvent its core platform, Windows (Windows 8 looks fantastic, btw, even better than Windows 7, which finally achieved the elusive “Just turn it on, stupid” nirvana Redmond, WA, seemed to find elusive.) They might even take it open-source.

Why?

If it’s open-source, and the entry points to development all have free options, it creates a market for Microsoft’s consulting services, where IBM makes most of its money today. Oh, they’ll continue to innovate. But in a world increasingly Unix/Linux driven (like Android and iOS are), what’s the point of an expensive operating system that has a wonky activation process?

No, Microsoft’s future does not lie with the consumer. They gave us the Start button and ceded the rest to Apple and Google long ago. Microsoft’s future is behind the scenes, in SQL Server, in development platforms like .Net, and in building the cloud. You might not see them in a few years, but they’ll be everywhere.

Which will mean a more fodder for conspiracy theorists.  Start making up paranoid delusions now.

A Very Bad Idea

Microsoft has been talking for some time about software-as-service.  Probably a good idea.  Why pay $250 up front for office when all you probably don’t use it everyday.

However, Microsoft wants to take it a step further.  You pay just to turn on your computer.  Then you pay to use the browser.  And then you pay to use Office or Adobe or whatever.

Um…  No.

Microsoft says the advantage is you don’t pay up front for your computer.  You just order one.  The supplier sticks a module in the machine that locks you in with that company, and you pay as you go.

I’d be all for that, except…

Why should I pay for the operating system every time I turn it on?  Particularly when I can download Ubuntu Linux for free?

Why should I be corralled into using one supplier or service and that one only?  (You can’t use the cell phone argument because I have the same problem with cell companies anyway.  Locking phones is simply evil.)

And if you don’t pay your Microsoft bill, what happens to your files?

The other thing that makes this idea really bad is the charge for browsing.  Excuse me?  I already pay for broadband.  I should get that damn browser for free.

There was a time when if Bill Gates said it, it would happen.  However, as we’ve seen since the tech bubble burst, that doesn’t happen now.  I see three things happening.  First, Microsoft is going to lose a lot of money on this idea.  Sure, a few people will hear “free PC,” but then the horror stories of a $1000 Microsoft bill will flood in, and the idea will be abandoned or watered down.  After all, Microsoft’s marketing machine has lost it’s Teflon coating.  (Do you know anyone who loves their Vista machine?  I didn’t think so.)

Second, sales of Macintosh units and PC’s loaded with some use-friendly form of Linux (Ubuntu, anyone?) will spike.  After all, if I only have to pay $500-1000 up front for a machine and can download all the open source software I want for free, why should I pay my Microsoft free?  Particularly when the open source software’s quality has improved considerably in the last five years.

And finally, that annoying little device riding on you hip is likely to become your laptop or main PC.  At the very least, it’ll eventually be your main telephone and data connection some time in the next decade.  Microsoft may be trying to patent the pay-as-you-go computer, but it’s already here as the iPhone and the Android and the Blackberry.

Not only is Microsoft planning to sell something I really wouldn’t want to buy, they might be planning their own downfall in the process.