Windows 7 and OS X: Its the simple stuff, stupid

Mỗi lần động tay vào Windows là trong người lại sôi lên, cảm giác như gặp phải mấy con mậu dịch già mồm hành là chính!

Forgive me for borrowing from an old Clintonian campaign slogan, but it seemed appropriate…

Over the past few weeks, more and more information has come out about the direction of Windows 7. Desperate to be cool once again, Windows is adding an OS X style dock, multitouch and a range of cool new UI effects to boot.

With all this attention to glamorous interface features, one would be surprised to see the range of negative articles published on Windows 7 thus far. Much of it, of course, does have to do with the skepticism cast on Microsoft these days, however some of it is also pointing out important flaws in what Microsoft is doing. The features being added to Windows 7 are not the features users need or are asking for most. They are flashy features Microsoft thinks will sell Windows, but instead may erode its market share. What Microsoft needs right now is to prove their critics wrong. Performance, stability and productivity tools over that extra “wow” factor.

I have always been a proponent of Microsoft products. I defended Vista through its hard times, and have always thought very highly of Microsoft products. Times have changed. With the start of some Unix development work, I converted to a more suitable Unix platform, OS X. With this move, I began to find how far my general beliefs of development and UI design had diverged from what I had praised as quality software. There is no doubt: OS X is not only a surprisingly stable platform, but it delivers the performance and features that users want – and does so better than its competitor.

Windows Vista was the perfect example of a monolithic, waterfall software development project. Many of the features added were to push the agendas of those running the show, not the customers of the Windows product. Emphasis was placed on Tablet PC and Windows Media Center over simplicity, cleanliness, speed and search. This is not to say Tablet and WMC are bad products — they both are powerful and interesting, but they were not the core concerns of consumers. Because resources were moved to less important aspects of Windows, the development of core features that users really need suffered.

Vista search is slow, resume from sleep is buggy at best and not instant, UAC is annoying and shut off by most advanced users at the beginning, and the OS overall feels sluggish. While Vista in many ways is a step above XP, it is arguably also a step backwards. And although they may have tried to patch up security and speed up search, they did not place emphisis on it. There is no good reason that Google can search billions of web pages faster than Windows can search a few million of my documents. No arguments, no excuses, its pathetic.

Apple’s OS X has taken a different tack than Windows. Every year, a new version of OS X is released. Every year, incremental new features (along with a few “pieces of flare”) come out of Apple, and every year the user experience improves. Apple seems to build in the features users want first, and then focus on the features that impress. Many Apple advocates focus on the fancy effects, the security, the cool factor, etc. to promote Apple products. But doing so misses the forest for the trees. What Microsoft can learn from Apple is not the fancy demos of Expose, cover-flow and other fun effects. Its real, value-added features that just work. This is where Microsoft needs to focus its time.

Disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong here. I want Windows 7 to be good. I want it to succeed. But on that note, I am afraid that it won’t. Unless Microsoft can show business customers real value, Windows 7 may be destined for the same fate as Vista. And I am scared that a failure of Windows 7 would hurt a product I do love, .NET.

Here are some of the things I’ve found since I first started using OS X:

It turns on instantly from sleep. Always. Open the lid, move the mouse. Its seriously that consistent.
Search is fast. Lightning fast.
I don’t miss anything (Except Visual Studio). OS X has a lot of software that is comparable or better than Windows equivalents. A lot of it is free too.
Less visual clutter. Finding features you want is easier.
No surprises. No chugging away at the hard drive unexpectedly, no “Please wait. Configuring updates” junk starting and shutting down.
Quick view is priceless. When looking for a file, being able to instantly see its contents greatly enhances productivity. Why can’t Windows do this?

None of these are flashy features… Just simple things that work well consistently. Its important. When I open my machine to show someone something, I expect it to turn on and not waste my time. Countless times I’ve had Vista freeze on wake and then on restart seen “Please wait, configuring updates.” Maybe 20 minutes later I get back to what I wanted to present.

Here are a few demos of OS X you usually don’t see in a typical sales pitch. Things that just work on OS X. Things that save me time. Things that I want in Windows.

Really fast Search. Spotlight is way faster than Windows Desktop Search.
Help Search. Find any menu command instantly.
Quick View. Surf through your files faster than web pages. Really important when you’re sifting through and looking for something.
Rename and move files while their open. OS X applications track changes of location and names of files they have open. No confusion, no weird “file in use” messages.
Find things fast in Control Panel. The control panel has concise, easy to follow and uncluttered names. Important information is prominent, things like “startup applications” aren’t hidden under convoluted names like “Windows Defender”. Control panel search works well.
When writing software, you need to focus on what users need first. Let’s hope the Windows team pulls more than just the glamorous features from OS X. Let’s hope they find what makes OS X more productive and easier to use. These are the features we need in Windows. Multitouch is just a nice-to-have that few people will actually benefit from.

OS X is not going to take over all the Windows market share, but it could make a dent. If Windows 7 fails to appeal to CTO’s and consumers alike, it will be 3 years before Microsoft gets yet another shot. In this time, it would not be surprising to see Apple’s market share to grow from its current 9% to 20-30%. Even by the time Windows 7 comes out (where Apple will have 10-15% of the market), Microsoft will have to change its game plan. No longer can it ignore the consumers running on Apple platforms — 15% of the market is just too much to ignore. Proprietary formats and tools will have to bow to interoperable platforms (Silverlight and the new Office XML format). This changes their business model quite a bit.


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