By twenty-eight Windows watchers | Monday, March 8, 2010 at 4:03 am
It is hard to believe that Windows is 25 years old. I had the privilege of being one of its earliest beta testers. I remember the excitement back then of moving from DOS to Windows and its radical new graphical user interface. While GUI’s have become the standard way we now interact with a computer, this type of an interface is not keeping pace with the next generation of hardware and software that is on track to transform the way we work with computers in the near future.
For Microsoft to make Windows more relevant, it needs to harness the new computing power that is inherent in the next generation of microprocessors, screens, storage, and the Internet and reinvent the way we interact with our computers. For example, touch screens will become standard fare in PC’s, laptops, and other forms of mobile computers and Windows must embrace these screens and innovate within them to make touch interfaces the norm. HP has done a marvelous job of creating their own touch interface on top of Windows on its TouchSmart PC’s, but Microsoft should be doing HP one better and creating a much more extensible touch UI as part of Windows that works across every Windows based device.
And gestures need to also be part of the future Windows. Microsoft’s Project Natal, which uses a camera in the Xbox platform to make it possible to play games by using hand gestures to interact with Xbox games, needs to be part of the Windows UI. Imagine if you are sitting at your desk and leaning back and can just move your hand to change a page, scroll down through an online article or even point to a screen app and activate it.
Speech and voice should also be part of making Windows on all devices more functional and relevant. Speech recognition and voice commands could dramatically enhance our interaction with personal computers of all types. It too should be integrated into Windows as the part of any future interface.
And while Windows today is very PC-centric, it must evolve to become more Internet and cloud-centric. Google’s Chrome OS will become a major threat to Windows in the future and Microsoft must figure out how to create a lighter, and dare I say, cheaper version of Windows to serve as a front end on devices that are designed specifically to connect to the cloud to get applications, information and media.
Windows has come a long way in 25 years. And so has the technology and devices that it could work on. If Microsoft wants Windows to stay in tune with the future of personal computing, it must do a lot of work to enhance this OS’s user interface and make it consistent across all Windows based devices.
How about give giving Windows away for free? Create a Windows layer for Unix, ala KDE or Gnome. Or perhaps deliver some real, true, easy networking tools that aren’t built around a LAN Manager core that still reeks of 1988?
Well maybe all that, but here’s what I’d settle for. A complete and total break with the 32-bit past. I’d really like a complete 64-bit product that has no support for legacy drivers, programs or code, except in a compatibility (aka pentalty) box. Remember that Windows 95 did this – it made a complete break from the 16-bit world, and it was one of the best versions of Windows ever. The industry needs to cast off 32-bit now, just as we said goodbye to 8 and 16-bit environments years ago.
But barring that, I’d simply like something that would keep all the supercilious mactards from lording their precious Pumas and Tigers and Leopards over those of us that still think computers are for getting something done, rather than simply being an expensive fashion accessory to a chimerical lifestyle.
But that’s just me.
Jim Louderback is CEO of Revision3. The former editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, he also covered Windows at publications such as Windows Sources and PC Week.
How can Microsoft make Windows more relevant? Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Windows 7 is an excellent product for some users. It will serve the needs of large enterprises very well, once Microsoft pries Windows XP out of their fingers. And it’s a fine platform for content creators of all sorts, especially software developers, and for tinkerers. But for the great majority of people who consume a lot of content and rarely create anything much more complicated than email messages and the occasional letter or school paper, Windows is an intimidating source of daily frustration.
In designing Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has finally shown that it is constitutionally capable of making a clean break with the past and offer a product that, at least based on what was shown at Mobile World Congress last month, seems tightly focused on delivering a good user experience. While Microsoft should obviously continue to offer Windows 7 for those who want or need its power, flexibility, and complexity, it should also create a new, radically simplified Windows for everyone else.
Microsoft should out Apple Apple, which is leading the way toward simplified and improved experiences. Microsoft needs to strip Windows down to the essentials. This will also mean, as in the case of Windows Phone 7, setting strict hardware specifications for manufacturers, because simplifying the hardware is a key to simpler software. The iPad should be an inspiration, but only as a starting point. Microsoft should, for example, support a variety of designs: tablets, clamshell laptops in various sizes, and desktops. It needs limited peripheral support to allow printing and the transfer of photos and videos.
But above all, it should incorporate something Jeff Hawkins told me several years ago about the philosophy he employed in designing the original Palm Pilot. If a function or an application generated an error and the engineers could not quickly guarantee that users would never see an error message, the function went overboard. Microsoft needs a Windows that does less but does it flawlessly and without intimidating or confusing users.
Steve Wildstrom is a technology blogger and analyst. He was BusinessWeek‘s technology columnist for fifteen years.
I’m a tech reporter, not a software engineer, so asking me what Microsoft should do with Windows is like asking the guy in the press box how the Steinbrenners should run the Yankees. But I’ve been keeping score long enough that I have lots of opinions.
Of course, there are the obvious ones, such as making the core of Windows more simple, secure, and flexible enough to easily scale down and work on a wider variety of devices. But in my view, one fundamental change will be required to keep Windows relevant in the 21st Century: Microsoft needs to take complete responsibility for the experience of using its product — starting by designing, developing, and selling its own Windows PCs.
Over the years, Microsoft’s willingness to license Windows to a wide variety of hardware makers has been one of the biggest keys to its success in the market. Despite the company’s efforts to work more closely with PC makers, in many cases the software and hardware still feel disjointed, like they come from completely different worlds. At this point in the Windows lifecycle, Microsoft has the power to determine its own destiny, and improve its product, by completely changing its mindset and entering a new era.
The company should still make Windows available to many hardware makers, but that should shift over time to a secondary business. Operating systems are becoming a commodity anyway. Microsoft¹s market position is strong enough that it can risk alienating its partners by competing with them, setting an example with its own flagship line of Windows machines.
Todd Bishop is managing editor of TechFlash.com.
If Windows is to be seen by both home and workplace buyers as something more than a default operating system, the brand needs a reboot on the scale of Bing. In fact, one obvious upgrade would be to have the people who pick Bing home page photos create a set of Windows desktop backgrounds and idle screens that will grab Best Buy shoppers by the eyeballs. They should update themselves daily, but you can save your favorites.
Second, Windows is still too damn slow. I have a laptop on which I’ve run first Vista, and now Windows 7, both installed fresh. Every day when I come into the office, I spend a couple of minutes watching my computer’s hard drive activity light flicker before the login screen appears on my display. Multiple malware searches found nothing. Re-installation did nothing. What on earth could Windows be up to that takes so long?
But as a consumer brand, what Windows needs most is a Bing-sized marketing campaign that doesn’t ignore the world’s doubts. Take them on, head first. Instead of TV spots starring do-nothing Jerry Seinfeld, show me a trio of teens bickering about which operating system sucks the most. The guy or gal whose stylin’ PC runs the new Windows shows them they’re totally wrong about Microsoft. Complaining about Windows? Dude, that’s what my parents do.