Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Progress or the Appearance of Progress?

Recently, I worked with a customer to get our software to work on a Windows 8.1 workstation (for which I warned him it is not certified).  As a Windows expert for 27 years, I found Windows 8 actually quite difficult to use.  The IT expert I worked with found the same.  So, that brought to mind this topic.

With technology, there are I would argue two different reasons why an established, successful product would be changed.  In the first, what I term "Progress," innovation and redesign happens because it adds to the product in some way - it makes it more capable, easier to use, perhaps take advantage of newer capabilities.  However, the other reason would be progress for the sake of progress - nothing new is added (except look - it is shiny, and different - that's new).

As an example, let's look at operating systems.  Yes, Windows 8.0 - 8.1, Windows 10, and OS X 10.10.  For reference, I am using the vendors' own pages that provide information about what the innovations are in the new versions.

Windows 8.0 - 8.1

Why do I show 2 versions?  Because, if you look at the features, there is nothing substantially different between the two.  What is really new in 8.1, is that they fixed the stability issues that the 8.0 users complained about, and added back the Start menu that they took away and everyone found Windows harder to use. 

So, what is new in Windows 8 family?
  • The Familiar Made Better - that's arguable.  What they say, is that it runs your software ( better or nobody would upgrade),  it has virus security (so do all the others, and there is truly nothing new here except a bunch of confusing, annoying hurdles that in reality prevent an IT professional from doing the job they need to do quickly), oh, and they actually say you can use a mouse and keyboard - whoop de big doo doo!  That is innovative!  (sarcasm? what sarcasm?)
  • Start Screen.  This is the only feature, of all of them, that I would call innovative.  I don't think it is a good innovation, but that's merely my opinion.  Personally, I find the metro tiles of different sizes and shapes confusing to the eye - kind of like that newscast where stock ticker scrolls across the bottom, and headlines flash to the right, while the broadcast takes up center screen.  Anyhow, this, truly, is new and I applaud the innovation to try to revamp the interface.
  • Multitasking - very small innovations here come from stealing from other operating systems, namely Gnome Desktop on Linux and OS X.  Not innovative, and they don't add much more than a cosmetic access to your running applications.
  • Search Once, Go Anywhere.  A very small tweak on the Start menu search bar, now searches the Internet.  Meh.
  • Cross-Platform.  They claim that a huge benefit is to have the same Windows on desktop, tablet, and phone.  Listen, Android and Linux make this claim - and what do they end up with?  A developer writes an app - but what paradigm is it designed for?  If it is designed for one, it does not work well on the other.  An app designed for mouse and keyboard, is awkward on mobile, and vice versa.  An app designed for a phone, is shrunk and restrictive on a tablet, whilst a tablet app is crowded and unusable on a phone.
  • One Drive.  This is there anyhow, and anyone who has a computer (be it desktop, server, or mobile) can access One Drive.  How is this Windows 8?
  • Internet Explorer 11.  One area where Microsoft continues to make improvements (how could you not, it was so bad before?).  Meh.  I'm sticking with Firefox on Windows, Safari on Mac.
  • Skype.  Really?  An app, touted as an OS feature?  That rubs me wrong.
  • Windows Store.  It took years I am sure to get it set up, but that is also years behind all the other operating systems in the world - which, by sheer number of computing devices, have outstripped Windows and made it a minority.  I haven't used it, so bravo, Microsoft, for entering the 21st century.  In 2014.
  • Great Apps Come Standard.  Some were always there, while others, new to Windows, have been on other platforms for years.  I mean, like 10 or more years.  Haven't I ranted before on things I couldn't figure out to do, that were so easy on OS X?  It's about time, and still behind other platforms.
  • iPad Vs. Windows.  Very very very interesting here, that Microsoft is trying to tell you how theirs is better than iPad.  Not any other tablet, just iPad.  The very fact that they think they need to compare themselves to that, means you probably shouldn't bother.
  • Cost:  It costs $150 to upgrade to Windows 8.  Worth it?

Windows 10

While the adoption of Windows 8.x has been very slow indeed, and people may be very happy in sitting on Windows 7 and ignoring 8 - you may be surprised to find out that there is a new version coming out.  And it is not 9.  It is 10.  10?  Why 10?  According to  Microsoft, it is so different from previous Windows versions that they had to skip a number, just to show how different it was.  How is it different?  Other than retro, they now have one operating system that works on all devices - computers, tablets, and phones.  That's right - bloat the Windows footprint even more on the device you are using by adding all that junk for the other devices it doesn't need.  Great idea.  Cost to upgrade - meh.  Whatever.

OS X 10.10

In the newest Mac OS, named Yosemite, Apple has changed the look and feel.  A flattened look seems to be industry-wide (as with Windows), plus transparency in app window borders, are the types of non-progress progress I was talking about.  However, here's a feature list new in Yosemite, from which you can plainly see innovation and advancement:
  • Flattened look and feel.  OK, this is a stretch, but while not functionally better, it does give a consistency across mobile and desk/laptop that does enhance the experience across products.  I can see it, I'm not so warm on it.  I like it, don't get me wrong, just not a huge innovation.
  • Spotlight.  This is Apple's search feature, and they extended it to not only search Internet sources (not just Bing or Google, which you can, but also Wikipedia and Wolfram and others).  It also can perform useful functions - like math operations (5*325-83.55=) and others.  It's an enhancement - definitely not original, as Alfred still does more, but hey, it's a base OS improvement.
  • Powerful, built-in apps.  This is where Apple has always shined.
  • Safari.  Let's talk about a few innovations here that really are.
    • Speed and performance, like IE 11, are better than their predecessor.
    • Notifications are way awesome.  Web sites can now allow you to subscribe to push notifications on their site.  This is kind of like getting notifications on your phone, but from a web site to your computer via the web browser.  You get a pop-up when some news happens in the Notification Center, click, and it takes you to the web page.
    • Sharing - you can share between e-mail, messaging, send to your phone - right from the browser.
    • Netflix HTML 5 video, and more innovation that gets more battery life out of your old or new laptop.
  • Mail.  Cool new mail markup features, and these are awesome.
  • iCloud Drive.  Meh, yet another cloud storage, big deal - except it is integrated with mobile.
  • Messages.  The Messages app is now fully integrated with your mobile Messages apps.  On your phone and tablet, both SMS and iMessages can be sent and received from any device including computer, and they are synched almost instantly.  It rocks!
  • Handoff.  Truly innovative, this means that you can start something on one device, and pick it up and continue on another.  E-mails, documents, and more - start editing, and set it down, you get an icon on the other devices (phone, tablet, computer) to continue.
  • Cost:  It costs $0 to upgrade to 10.10.  Worth it?

     So, when you compare the costs, one thing does stand out.  Apple sells hardware.  Microsoft sells software.  Software gets you coming and going - while Apple, you buy it, you own it.  I'm so there.