When Apple, Microsoft, and Google took on touch

When Apple took on touch, it created a new OS (though, yes, based on OS X) with entirely new UI conventions. It threw out everything end users knew about getting around in software and started building anew with the finger as the foundation.
When Microsoft took on touch, it first tried to bolt it onto Windows 7, then got off its ass and built an entirely new interface for Windows 8. This time Microsoft used the finger, but also the pen, as the foundation.

When Google took on touch, it slapped a web browser in a traditional PC notebook, gave it a price tag of $1,300, and said ‘good luck tapping tiny 30-year-old UI buttons designed for mice and keyboard shortcuts’.

ZDNet: Microsoft radically overhauls license agreements for Windows 8

Ed Bott:

That last license type represent the first time Microsoft has formally acknowledged the right of its end-user customers to install Windows 8 on a new PC they build themselves, or to install it in a virtual machine or on a separate partition.

Nice of them to catch up. Sarcasm aside, any improvements to the approachability of EULA language are ok with me.

Fast Company: Outlook Is Microsoft’s Answer To Everything You’ve Ever Hated About Hotmail

Regardless of whether you like Microsoft’s new Metro interface, you gotta commend the company for developing a UI and sticking to it. In fact, I bet one could argue that Microsoft is exhibiting more UI consistency, and perhaps even coherent flexibility, than Apple in its latest products.

For example, look at the difference between OS X and the Apple TV. Now look at Windows 8 and the Xbox.

Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve: “Windows 8 is a catastrophe”

Strong words from Newell at Casual Connect, a Seattle video game conference. Tricia Duryee, writing for some website, quoted him on a range of topics like game distribution, closed platforms, and the prospects of touch as an interface. But on Windows 8:

We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.

A post-PC era by any other name

Microsoft simply refuses to get both feet on board with thematically moving beyond the “PC” era, exhibited by COO Kevin Turner’s comments at his company’s Worldwide Partner Conference. Since the iPad’s introduction, Apple has claimed we’re in a “post-PC” era. Turn says it’s a “PC+” era. More importantly:

[Apple has] talked about it being the post-PC era, they talk about the tablet and PC being different, the reality in our world is that we think that’s completely incorrect. We actually believe Windows 8 is the new era for the PC plus. We believe with a single push of a button you can move seamlessly in and out of both worlds. We believe you can have touch, a pen, a mouse, and a keyboard.

Maybe he’s right, but there are two facts that don’t play at all in Microsoft’s favor. First, as we all know, Microsoft took and missed its first shot at tablet PCs a decade ago, then limped along with what it had. No one seemed to want to buy $2,000+ Windows tablets that were expensive, heavy, and built for pens instead of fingers, and Microsoft and its partners never spent any meaningful time to think about what wasn’t working or make a substantial effort to move the needle forward.

Now, Microsoft has refreshingly—though one could argue only forcibly, and only after the iPad helped destroy the Mac-to-PC sales ratio—done something interesting with Windows 8. It’s finally rebuilt its touch interface after taking the same route Apple did—experimenting in mobile (first the Zune, then Windows Phone), then expanding with notebooks. While I genuinely think it looks interesting, it also hasn’t shipped, so we’ll have to wait and see how Windows 8 is received in tablet form.

The second fact working against Turner is that even Microsoft doesn’t fully seem to buy into its own ‘no compromise, tablet + pen + touch + keyboard’ matra—a mantra, I should point out, that describes precisely the devices people haven’t wanted to buy for over a decade. While one version of Windows 8 tablets will do double-duty as both a traditional and PC+ device, another will be tablet-only, designed to run on bare-bones, low-power hardware, just like the pen-less, keyboard-less iPad.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what either of these companies, or anyone else, for that matter, calls what is turning out to be a period of pretty great innovation in personal computer design. It only matters that our tool builders listen and respond to what people actually want. Apple is clearly doing that with the iPhone, iPad, and App Store. Let’s see if Microsoft can do the same.

Jumping the fearful, loathing Windows 8 shark

You can read Michael Mace’s Fear and Loathing in Windows 8 in a few different ways. Apple fans might smirk at the thought that Microsoft could have an even worse Windows Vista on its hands. Microsoft fans might get wrapped up in Mace’s concerns (some of which do indeed sound valid) and reach for the nearest anxiety meds. I can’t help but feel, though, that Mace stopped just shy of writing an obituary for Windows 8, peppered with misunderstanding and gratuitous expectations, before the OS has even been born. 

Windows 8 is in a release preview right now, and has been for months—that’s Microsoftian for “beta” and, like Apple, when Microsoft says beta, it actually _means_ *beta*. The ecosystem knows this and, as far as I can tell, seems to be responding as it always has. Microsoft’s third parties, at least on the consumer end, have always bided their time with jumping on major Windows upgrades. Frankly, I am pleasantly surprised at how many have already built Windows-8-friendly components like Metro tiles.

Speaking of third parties, one of Mace’s primary concerns is over an apparent lack of support in Windows 8 for third-party hardware. The networking card in one of his notebooks doesn’t work, and he cites a number of tablet PC owners who experience sporadic touch support. He levies a complaint over this problem at Microsoft without so much as mentioning that maybe, just maybe, updating hardware support for a major OS release should largely fall on the hardware manufacturer, and not Microsoft. 

Sure, to get the ball rolling, Microsoft is expected to provide a baseline of support for some of the generic, popular hardware. But hardware diversity and choice are frequently touted as a major advantage of Microsoft’s ecosystem. We can’t hurl that advantage, and its varying pros and cons, back at Microsoft when it fits a bias or could bolster an otherwise unfounded concern. I don’t have hard numbers on day-one manufacturer preparedness for past major Windows releases, or how quickly they updated drivers and other wares. But the problems Mace cites at this point of a Windows beta process, especially with niche use cases and hardware like tablet PC touch screens (a technology that seems to have been largely rebuilt in Windows 8), just don’t seem out of the ordinary.

Microsoft and the ecosystem just need time. Mace does bring up some valid concerns, but Windows 8—again, still just a beta—is also the result of Microsoft finally taking some major gambles. Frankly, that is really refreshing to see.

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Windows 8: touch vs keyboard and mouse navigation (hands-on video) | The Verge

Interesting navigation ideas in Windows 8, and it’s nice to see Microsoft made them about as parallel as they can be between the old ‘n busted and new hotness.

Watching these side by side, though, and from my own experience using a Magic Trackpad and gestures in recent versions of OS X, I can’t imagine using most touch-inspired gestures with a traditional mouse. It’s good that they’re there to help the typical user, who doesn’t always jump to the new hotness right away, make the transition. But touch, be it on an iPad or a traditional computer with a gesture-enabled trackpad, just feels so much better.