Death of the PC? You don’t have a clue what one is

13 10 2015

Apple, Google and Microsoft have only just finished their events and we are now subjected to the usual fanboi articles from the press. Now, I’ve come to get used to this, articles that feel so unbelievable biased to one of these tech giants over the other two, often stupidly so, but recently, the articles themselves just are not understanding the basics of technology or what’s been going on over the past decade, let alone what appears to be happening right now.

My main gripe though in this post is the lack of understanding what a PC actually is. It seems that journalists and fanbois alike, think a PC is a 1990s desktop PC, that’s simply crazy. In addition, people like gartner and forbes with their market analysis constantly needs to re-asses the definition of a PC in the tech market, simply because PC in its pure form covers the vast majority of devices available.

Mobile is PC

First off, let’s just clarify one thing, a mobile phone or a tablet is a PC. PC = Personal Computer, so mobile devices if anything fit that terminology much more closely than what everyone it seems thinks a PC is, a good old 1990s desktop. Mobile is so personal, and it’s a computer, so it’s a personal computer.

As soon as you grasp this, it becomes clear why Microsoft (who seems to be forever linked with desktop PCs) is starting to make its own hardware, specifically aimed at “mobile” and more importantly, expanding that market away from where the likes of Apple and Google dominate. By that, I mean pure “mobile”, as in more focus on personal, less on the computing aspect.

What’s been going on

Since Apple really turned a mobile phone into a form of PC, the market has been shifting towards smaller, more personal devices, and as such, removes the need for homes etc to purchase a good old desktop machine. What has been a complete success is actually removing functionality and reducing computing power. I for one could do more with an original windows mobile pda device than I could do with an iPhone for example. Hell, I used to be able to control servers from that thing. But, the usability of it wasn’t simple, and to be honest, the vast vast vast majority of users use nothing more than a web browser and a handful of simple applications on mobile devices. Because of this, Apple made another great innovation, and that was simply making the phone bigger, so it was easy to use on the sofa. Enter the iPad.

Tablets really are where the majority of day to day users now carry out their computing (if not still on their mobile phone). The reason is because most tablets again, with the web, and access to good apps provides everything the majority of users understand. However, sales if iPads etc seem to have reached that point of market saturation, and that’s not a surprise, end consumers cant keep on buying, buying and buying the same thing. In essence, the PC market is now moving away from desktops to tablets, but that’s still the same PC market.

Microsoft trying to be different?

With the release of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface, Microsoft essentially said “yes, we are very late to mobile devices, but we have a vision were these devices are just as powerful as the desktop you used to have”. Now the reason this isn’t that popular is because the vast majority of users doesn’t need that power or complexity. Hell, the tech journalists don’t even understand that’s what Microsoft is trying to do, nor why.

However, the Surface Pro device hit some notes with large chunks of the mobile PC market, and that chunk was focussed around productivity. Though the majority of users out there don’t need to be productive, there is a market for people who are productive and want productivity from their devices. How many people do you know (in business) who turn up with their iPad. They may make some notes on there, but then when it comes to carrying out anything worth doing, pull out a laptop that appears to be a number of years old? Essentially that user is now carrying two devices around with them? That’s not the point of tablet or mobile computing is it.

Microsoft therefore tried to provide for that niche market, in the hope to get a foothold I believe and then expand that to us daily users. It’s taken until Windows 10, and the most recent launch event from Microsoft to really start to show how effective this approach is. With the Surface Pro 3, and Windows 10, Microsoft delivers a device that is Mobile. Its not an old desktop vision for the company or Windows, rather its Mobile and personal first, however with no computing or productivity compromising.

Going forward

Who knows what the market will do. However, Microsoft must be hitting the right notes with sales of Surface Pro devices doing well. You have to just look at Apple and the iPad Pro to see that Apple and Google are aware that Microsoft approach will see them selling devices and potentially taking away market share from them both. After all, why carry an iPad and a Laptop? Or have an iPad and an old desktop machine at home or work when you can have a Surface Pro tablet that is a tablet, your laptop and with a “dock” accessory, replaces your desktop machine too. That’s three devices in one?

For businesses, Surface Pro allows them to provide a single device to their employees, and takes away an utter nightmare regarding provisioning of hardware, policies, security, ISMS etc etc. For consumers it brings the same common sense approach. Why have two/three devices? Why not have a tablet that is my laptop and desktop? Apple and Google have spotted this is a real threat, hence the release of their own “pro” versions of their tablets, though neither has the innovation here or capability to compete with Microsoft Windows 10 or its power on a mobile tablet.

We see that Microsoft is going further with this, especially with Windows Phone 10 and “Continuum” enabling your Phone to replace your desktop with the simple connection to a dock device! That’s your phone powering a real desktop scree,, keyboard and mouse, allowing any user to be productive with just their phone. Enter universal apps from Microsoft Windows 10 and you really see that Microsoft is banking on mobile pcs as actual computing productivity devices, not just personal devices. This theme continues with Surface Book, a laptop first, that can be your tablet (detach the screen) or desktop replacement.

What’s clear, is that the “mobile” market is the PC marketplace, and that mobile appears to be now embracing the need for productivity and computing power. With the market now moving that way, is Microsoft on the right path to take pole position in our computing lives again? Is Microsoft devices along with Windows 10 on the right path, which is all about mobile computing experiences across a range of devices, providing us with real freedom of choice on how to carry out our computing activities while not compromising on productivity or power?

In a recent article in the daily telegraph (Best of luck Microsoft, but the Surface Book isn’t going to save the PC) I couldn’t but think “Oh my God this guy just doesn’t have a clue”. If you think a laptop is a traditional “PC pitch” from Microsoft then you don’t have a clue about what has been going on, what a PC really is or what we are seeing from the tech giants or the marketplace. To be fair though, graphs showing PC sales don’t get it either, they focus on traditional desktop machines, which is a narrow view of the PC market.

One thing we must also remember is that a desktop is easy to upgrade. Many many many consumers out there have old desktop machines and simply update them. The same can be said of businesses, with simple upgrades to RAM, most desktop machines have their life extended quite considerably. Throw into the mix that you can still run Windows 10 on these devices and why do you need to buy a desktop as often as any other device.

The traditional desktop may not be the entire market anymore, but as for the “PC” market, it is simply growing and growing with many more devices delivering personal computing experiences.  Dominating the PC market is still the playing field, the devices just look different!

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Windows 8 has got it right

14 03 2012

I have read a lot of great things about Windows 8 and a lot of negative things about it too. It seems that Windows 8 has polarized opinion across the media, and this really is shown on blogging sites such as ZDNet and Business Insider. I have noticed with Windows 8 that there are two types of bloggers, those that want to use it, feel it, see what’s actually new and think of it as a new piece of software at beta release (which it is), and those who simply are looking for any reason to say why it will fail and why Windows 8 is the next Vista, or why we should all use an iPad for business or something….What is weird, as yet, I haven’t read a blog that really skews its slant in a biased way towards windows 8 (must be the sign of the times).

So like many things in life, there is no point listening or reading so called journos on such matters (just as I rarely listen to film critics), you simply have to use it, and spend some time with it. So when the CP of Windows 8 was released at the end of February I thought it was time to install it on my work machine and see what it really is made of…

By the way, I am writing this on my Windows 8 machine, using Metro IE 10, which I have to say is the nicest browser experience I have used on any form of device, be that mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop…I really like it….

 

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

 

Touch

OK, many blogs say Windows 8 is far too focused on touch, and it neglects the desktop and the good old days of mouse and keyboard. This may seem true, when you read the blogs and see some screen shots, but actually use it for a few days (in my case in a hard work environment) and you soon realise that actually, Metro works just as well with a mouse and keyboard. Sure it’s nicer with touch, but everything is nicer with touch, far more intuitive and even dare I say still novel.

What we must all remember is that touch is the future, and that includes the desktop and laptop worlds. Already we see many PCs with touch monitors, and if you have used them, you find their experience is better than standard PCs without it (even running Windows 7). By the start of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if most new PCs came with a touch screen option. Windows 8 is a new UI for the next 10 years for Microsoft, and touch has to be at the centre of it, like it or not. If you are one of those people who still want to use a mouse and keyboard, that’s fine too, but don’t knock an OS for supporting what will be the mass market shortly.

Clashing Metro and Desktop

Clashing user interfaces is something that is also being thrown at Windows 8 at lot, people claiming that its “jarring” moving from the metro world to the desktop. I really think this is looking for faults for the sake of looking for faults. I have 3 monitors and 2 of which are in desktop mode, the third Metro, and to be honest I don’t find the experience jarring at all. Sure they look and behave differently but so do many programs you run. Currently with any OS, you have a few windows open and the experience between those windows is just as “jarring” as there is no standard design for apps.

I really don’t find a clash, especially if you stop seeing them as different user interfaces, and see them for what they are. Metro home screen is the start button, just full screen. When you run multiple monitors it’s really nice having the metro side of things on a screen on its own, it works really well. I also have the option to ditch it and go full desktop. We have to realise that metro is start, and metro apps are immersive experiences, designed yes for touch and tablets, but work just as well on the desktop. The Maps App for example means I will never use Google maps or any maps in a browser again! It is a brilliant experience on a desktop machine.

When you run multiple monitors you find that probably on one of them you will have one window open to the full screen, typically for me this will be Outlook, and the other monitor may have VS 2010 open full screen and the third lots of multiple windows open, depending on what I am doing. So the concept of full screen apps in metro fits in nicely with multiple monitors I find. If on a single monitor, if you want to have two windows open at once, you can with Metro, nothing stops you, just that the apps run side by side (a feature many of us use in Windows 7 to snap windows side by side). Not many of us have multiple windows open so we are viewing them all the time, we have multiple windows open so we can work with them, but to actually view them no, we switch between windows. I think the alt tab is the most used key, and with Metro this doesn’t change, nothing is stopping you from opening many many apps…

 

Mystery in using the Metro UI

With anything new, comes new ways of doing things. Many have written that you have to “re-learn” the Metro world, and know where to hover your mouse etc. This is sort of true, sure you have new areas or zones where you hover your mouse and new things happen, but that is “added” to your windows experience, and if you can’t remember to move your mouse to one of four corners to activate something then you really won’t even remember why you are on the PC in the first place.

There are new things to learn, for example start button is gone, but metro home is start, you access “charms menu” by hovering the mouse in the bottom right, or top right hand corner of the screen, sure its new but now you know, it’s pretty easy to remember. If anything its very intuitive once you give it a chance. My Dad who is approaching his 70s is always scared of a new OS coming from Windows as he is still in XP mode, but after 10 mins with Windows 8 he was more than happy with it.

Once you get used to some of the new ways of doing things, you soon find that these are standardised across everything in Windows, which makes life so so so much simpler. Think about changing settings in your browser, or an app, often we end up looking through menus to find where they are (not always in the most obvious place). You then go to a different application and you want to change those settings and yeap, you spend ages looking for them in that app as they are not in the same place. With Windows 8 all that is gone, just go to the charms menu, and there they are, settings…No matter what app you are in.

Oh, and don’t forget, Metro is for all your devices, phone, tablet, laptop, desktop….

Lumia800

Nokia Lumia 800 showing its Windows Metro Interface. Metro across all your devices makes life simple

 

Default classic desktop

So you boot up and you are greeted with Metro, some saying they want to be greeted by the classic desktop and bypass metro, but I really don’t see why. Once in the desktop, what will you do, you will look to open an application. So why didn’t you simply open the application from the metro start screen? If it’s a desktop app, it fires and you are in desktop mode? Booting into desktop, and then clicking on start, then programs, then selecting your application of choice is far more time consuming than selecting it from the metro start screen. Plus, in desktop mode, do I have live tiles telling me information I may need?

 

Metro doesn’t work for everything

Ahh this is true, and this is the point of Windows 8 in some ways. You have one OS for all your devices, so just as typical Windows desktop apps don’t work well for mobile devices, certain metro design concepts won’t work for certain applications. I doubt there will be a VS 2012 in Metro, or a Photoshop metro app. You simply need the accuracy of a mouse, you need the text based menus with all your options, so traditional desktop interface works well.  With Windows 8 you get the best of both worlds, and more to the point the flexibility. I want to be able to do “everything” on my chosen device, and with Windows 8 I have that flexibility. It maybe that I have a metro version of outlook or mail open, but then need to work with Photoshop; I have the freedom within the OS to work as efficiently as possible in both environments. Can you say that with any other OS across any or should I say all of your devices?

I personally am glad metro doesn’t suit everything. If it did, think of those entire legacy apps people would be trying to re-write…They won’t will they, and the desktop works well for those apps, so why re-invent the wheel for something that isn’t broken.

 

Kinect Support missing

This made me laugh out loud; that someone has complained about this is mad! Windows 8 is a beta / consumer preview edition; it’s not a finished OS. Likewise do we have Kinect Support on all other operating systems…erm, no. I’m sure it will be there come the end of 2012, and in many ways you can argue it is there already. Since the desktop world supports legacy apps, it will no doubt support the current Kinect drivers, API etc available for Windows 7.

 

Live tiles ….

I think you either love these or hate the look of them. I personally love the practicality they bring. With my Metro start screen I see so much information without doing anything other than look at the screen. I have noticed I do the same with my Windows phone, no longer do I flit between multiple apps for quick updates, and I simple look at the screen and the various tiles. In many ways, Live tiles are great from productivity and making sure you are aware of what’s going on…

I think if you hate the look of them, you haven’t actually spent any time with them. If you have, the blocky nature makes things easy and clear to see, and the fact they are actually live, constantly moving and updating you with information is great. Many have said that they will look messy once you get different apps and graphics being used, I have to disagree, if anything the tiles look more vibrant. I think the tiles look more standardised, even with lots of different apps and graphics being shown than a sea of icons which I used to have (be that on my phone or desktop). Moving back to the old icon world really does feel like a step back in time now, and I think that will be many people’s thoughts once they spend a little time with Metro and live tiles.

 

Business adoption will be slow

This may be true, but not because Windows 8 is something they don’t like, rather because the Enterprise update in cycles, and this usually means an update ever 2 versions of Windows in recent years. Most companies went from Win 95 to Windows XP. I don’t recall anyone opting for Windows 98. On the server side we went NT 4 to 2000. Roll forward and enterprise moved from XP to Windows 7 and server side from 2000 to 2005/8. It’s not because the other versions of Windows were cra* rather the releases didn’t fit in with the Enterprises upgrade timescales. I think Windows 8 is being released so soon after 7 so that it does miss the Enterprise upgrade path on purpose. This means by the time Windows 9 is being released; everyone will be happy with the Metro concept and be very eager to move to Windows 9 in the enterprise.

Sure in the tablet scene, many businesses will opt for Windows 8 tablets, especially with support for legacy apps. I read in one blog though that because windows 8 on ARM won’t support these legacy apps that business will turn to the iPad….You see the sort of rubbish that gets written? Why would any business chose an iPad in such a case? The iPad also won’t run your legacy apps, so I think the business will opt for Windows tablets on Intel chips and sacrifice the added 2 hours of battery life (so that’s 10 down from 12 looking at the battery span of the Windows 8 Developers Preview tablet).

 

Gamble…

Is Windows 8 a gamble…Yes, but is it a massive one, no not really. If you hate metro, you will live in the desktop mode. If like me you like to move forward, and you are prepared to spend more than 5 minutes judging a book by its cover, then you will soon like Metro and everything it stands for, and that will include the Metro start screen and “apps” in Windows 8…

I think Microsoft have got it right with Windows 8, and we have seen some real innovation finally from a desktop OS.