Tag Archives | Microsoft. Windows

The Life and Times of Windows XP

If you’d been alive in 1924 and had enjoyed the comedy stylings of a young Vaudevillian named George Burns, you never would have believed he’d still be packing them in seventy years later. In 1963, you might have dug the music that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were making, but the idea they’d still be touring almost forty-five years later would have sounded insane. Those of us who watched Dennis Eckersley pitch for the Red Sox in 1978 would have scoffed at the notion that he’d be playing for Beantown once again in 1998.

And then there’s Windows XP. The press release announcing its release on October 25th 2001 called it “Microsoft’s Best Operating System Ever.” A decade later, so many people still agree with that assessment that it remains the planet’s most pervasive desktop operating system.

Nobody would have been prescient enough to predict that Windows XP would be flourishing so many years after its debut. Not Microsoft. Not consumers and businesses. Not the analysts who get paid to know where technology is going. And certainly not me.

No single factor explains XP’s astonishing longevity. The most obvious one, of course, is the failed launch of 2007’s Windows Vista, an upgrade so lackluster that many PC users simply rejected it, instinctively and intelligently. But I think you also have to give XP credit for being just plain good, especially once Microsoft released Service Pack 2 in 2004. And desktop operating systems, from any company, simply aren’t as exciting as they were in the 1990s; people are less likely to want a new one every couple of years, and more likely to drive the one they’ve got into the ground.

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Microsoft on the Windows 8 Start Menu

Curious what’s on the mind of the people who are creating Windows 8? Microsoft’s Windows team blogs the thinking behind its decisions in posts that are sometimes remarkably detailed. It’s published a post that’s the first of a series on the Windows 8 Start menu, which has nothing to do with any previous incarnation.

I think that Microsoft is making a mistake by removing the classic Start menu from Windows 8 altogether. If you’re in the desktop running conventional Windows programs and click Start, you get instantly dumped out into the very different world of Metro. It’s a jarring and unpleasant experience, even if you like Metro, and I think that Windows 8 skeptics are going to see it as an argument against upgrading. But I’m still glad that Microsoft is explaining why it’s doing what it’s doing.

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The History of Operating Systems, Charted

Horace Dediu of Asymco has tried to quantify and chart how fast Windows is evolving compared to other operating systems. I could write hundreds of words quibbling with his methodology–for one thing, Windows 3.1 wasn’t the first stand-alone version of Windows and, in fact, required that you buy and install a separate copy of DOS–but his thoughts are interesting and his commenters have lots of smart things to say.

The contrast is then striking: Consumerized devices with over-the-air updates on a 12 month cycle are five times more agile than a traditional corporate Windows desktop. Another way to look at this is that for every change in a corporate desktop environment, the average user will change their device experience five times. Although Microsoft might find comfort in Enterprises’ leisurely pace of change[2], those are the wrong customers to keep happy going forward.

Dediu says he’s glad that Windows 8 is named Windows 8. It’s worth reminding ourselves that it’s only a code name at this point–and that “Windows 8” is the first version of Windows in Windows history that might plausibly be called something other than Windows, since the Metro interface lacks windows as we knew them. (That said, I hope that Microsoft does indeed call it Windows 8.)


Windows 8 Continues the Cheery Error Message Tradition, Unfortunately

(Image borrowed from Geek.com)

Software developers have a strange attitude towards notifying their customers of product error. They rarely just explain what happened, and apologize. Well, sometimes they do try, but with an explanation so technical that it’s pointless for us normal human beings. (That may or may not be better than providing an error code rather than actual information on what went wrong.)

There’s also a long-standing tradition of error messages being accompanied by humorous visuals, dating back at least to the Mac’s Bomb and Sad Mac icons, and probably much further than that. And now Geek.com is reporting that Windows 8 has a new sort of Blue Screen of Death that sports an oversized frowny face emoticon. (The developer preview of Windows 8 is buggy, but I haven’t run into any catastrophic errors that trigger this screen myself.)

I don’t get it. Are there any other industries that see failure as an occasion for merriment? I love Chrome, but its suffering browser tab and messages such as “Aw, Snap!” always leave me slightly more irritated than if I’d just gotten a straightforward alert that something had gone awry.

Of course, Windows 8 is merely a developer preview, so its error messages are presumably subject to further tweaking. How about dumping the frowny, Microsoft?

(Side note: The one cheery error message I like is Twitter’s Failwhale, in part because it was designed by my friend Yiying Lu. In fact, I’m almost sorry I rarely see it these days…)


Please, PC Makers, Don’t Ruin Windows 8

Who says you can’t teach an old operating system new tricks? For years, Windows was the world’s most annoying piece of software. It would blithely interrupt your work to tell you that there were unused icons on your desktop. Its search feature–even in the Professional version–inexplicably involved a puppy dog. It made paying customers jump through hoops to prove they hadn’t pirated the software, and sometimes accused them of stealing it anyhow. It rebooted itself to install updates when it felt like it, regardless of what you might be doing at the moment. I get irritated just thinking about it.

With Windows 7, Microsoft took a major step in the right direction: The best thing about the upgrade was that it stayed out of your face. And now Windows 8 promises to go even further, with a new interface, Metro, that’s remarkably tasteful and pleasant. If Microsoft delivers on Win 8’s potential when it ships it next year, you might forget you’re using Windows at all.

But I’m already nervous that PC markers will sabotage Microsoft’s good work by layering on junkware that makes the operating system slower, less reliable, and more aggravating.

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Needed: A Great Office for Windows 8

My friend Jeremy Toeman says that it’s imperative that Microsoft come up with a great version of Office that uses Windows 8’s new Metro interface. He’s right, of course–without one, there’s little reason for any business to consider an upgrade, and a really good one could be a major selling point. And I’ll eat a Windows 8 tablet if Microsoft doesn’t have a pretty ambitious one ready by the time Windows 8 PCs go on sale.

I will quibble with one point in Jeremy’s post: He says that early demos of Windows Vista were “awesome.” I remember spending what seemed like eons running early versions of Vista and being briefed by Microsoft on them, and being consistently underwhelmed. I expressed some guardedVista skepticism well before the OS shipped, but to this day I wish I’d been even more skeptical even earlier. Then I could say “I told you so…”


Windows 8: The Verdict Isn’t In!

My lousy photo of two of the devices I'm carrying around at the moment.

On Monday, the day before Microsoft formally unveiled Windows 8 at its BUILD conference here in Anaheim, it held a event for the press. Tech journalists from around the world (including me) got a preview of the news that would break a day later, and we went back to our hotel rooms with loaner Samsung tablets loaded with the developer preview of Windows 8. We agreed to a Microsoft embargo that said we could publish our stories at 9:05am on Tuesday, once the BUILD keynote was underway.

On Monday night, I frantically put the Samsung through its paces and hurriedly began to write, knowing that my first-impressions piece would be one of dozens that would hit the next morning.

And then I thought to myself: What’s the rush?

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