Microsoft: Just swallow this tablet ... the rest will take care of itself
Redmond will win on the fondletop, not software
Open ... and Shut The clearest sign that Windows 8 may have a fighting chance has nothing to do with the software, and everything to do with hardware. Microsoft's hardware, that is.
The gods must be crazy.
After all, Microsoft has spent decades printing money based on a booming software business. Despite the criticism leveled by the technorati, Microsoft actually writes fantastic software. The problem for Microsoft, however, is that what was the state of the art in 2000 is crufty in 2012, and for an enterprise behemoth like Microsoft, it has to bridge the old world and the new.
In the case of Windows 8, or RT, or whatever it's called (here's a cheat sheet for understanding the distinctions), this "gets" in the way of the forward thinking Microsoft put into the Metro interface.
As David Pogue of The New York Times writes:
[B]oth Surface tablets, and indeed Windows 8 itself, suffer from an insanely confusing split personality. Beneath the colorful, edge-to-edge world of RT apps, the menus, icons, taskbar and overlapping windows of the traditional Windows desktop are still there. On the Surface, that old desktop pops bafflingly and unnecessarily into view whenever you use the Office programs.
Or as Matt Bunchanan of Buzzfeed writes: "For a device that's supposed to feel more like an appliance, with seamless and beautiful software, there are a number of weird moments that scream "computer!" like black-and-white nightmares bursting into rainbow dreams."
It's an attempt to appeal to Windows old customers while also winning over the new, and it may end up frustrating both. And there are plenty of other frustrations with the software, as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes.
But I think there's hope, which hope has nothing to do with Microsoft's software. Microsoft has to make too many compromises with its customer base to move forward its software story with conviction. Fortunately, the exceptional Surface hardware may well save Microsoft from its software.
By many accounts, the Surface is beguiling and beautiful. Pogue calls it "spectacularly designed," with "drool-worthy" specs. This isn't a cheap clone of the iPad. It's appetizing in its own right.
Which is why I think consumers will give it a chance, despite its Jekyll and Hyde software flaws. We may gush about Apple's software, but the thing that has sold hundreds of millions of Apple devices isn't the software. It's the industrial design and iconic white earbuds that simultaneously screamed, "Look at me, I'm cool!" and "I can't hear you because these earbuds have ruined my sense of hearing!"
I'm not arguing that Apple's software is bad. As the owner of five or six MacBooks, six iPhones, and two iPads, I quite like it. I'm just saying that software isn't the primary selling point for Apple's devices.
The device is.
And to the extent that software is a driving factor, well, the client-side software isn't the only consideration. When it comes to cloud services, Apple remains consistently weak while I'd say that Microsoft is quite strong. For someone looking for a holistic, end-to-end computing experience, Microsoft (or Google) is likely a better bet than Apple.
But it's not software and it's not the cloud that people first see, which draws their interest. It's the hardware. The hardware initiates the conversation that gets someone interested in turning on the device and experimenting with the interface. In 2002 when I switched to Mac OS X I really struggled with the transition from Windows, but I soldiered on because the hardware was so pretty. Once someone gets past the hardware and looks at the Windows RT interface, they're still going to be impressed.
It's only later when they have to sift through the split personality and other niggling problems that they may experience some buyer's remorse. But by that time, they'll already be sold. ®
Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.
"Microsoft actually writes fantastic software"
Can I have some of what you're smoking?
Re: "Microsoft actually writes fantastic software"
I couldn't read the rest of the article for laughing once I'd got that far.
Re: "Microsoft actually writes fantastic software."
VS is ok, but it's no vim.
Are we sure?
It looks very much to me that putting RT on a tablet means they're aiming not so much at the hardware or the software, but as acting as a controlling retail channel. That's where the money is. That and subscription models. If, for comparatively little effort, you can lock in customers to an ecosystem and take a cut of everything they do in it, you can mine the hardware/software dependence without ever having to do anything new. Very much like Apple did with the graphic design community and their frightfully expensive font libraries.
Ten years ago, that would have seemed laughably arrogant, and wouldn't have stood a chance in the retail environment. After the collapse of so many content empires, music stores and the DRM ruckus, expecting people to cede control over their own computers just so they could be more efficiently fleeced would have been as insane an idea as selling "thin clients" to consumers. Or 'push media', for that matter. Back then, computers were tools for enabling creativity and innovation as much as for flogging it. Linux was offering a genuinely open, in all senses, alternative to the proprietary restrictions of monopolists, and a new generation was growing up with computers, unfazed by complexity and jargon, who would engineer innovative solutions, turn data into knowledge and forge a bold, new, meritocratic economy.
It hasn't turned out like that, sadly. Instead, it's turned into a meretricious, ad-spattered, proprietary soup of electronic soma, served up via pointlessly expensive, and mostly useless, devices. Walk through any public space, and you'll see a huddled mass of shuffling humanoids, like an ADHD version of Second Life, tweeting gibberish to the void, waiting for some Shoreditch flack to rediscover the knowledge economy.
Perhaps I'm getting old, but if this is the future, I think I'd rather be dead.
Re: "Microsoft actually writes fantastic software."
"Utter, utter, UTTER turd"
At last- a realistic assessment of Win8.