Saturday, April 28, 2007 by Gideon MacLeish | Discussion: OS Wars
Someone made a comment on another thread that Vista has gotten the nickname "ME2". And while that may be oversimplifying things, the truth is that in the big picture Vista is likely to be remembered more as a disaster than a success. Maybe "New Coke" would be a better analogy.
In my rather limited empirical experience I am seeing a lot of people purchase ill advised Vista upgrades, only to see them dump them in favor of their old XP installation. Not techies, mind you, but regular end users. End users who, to put it bluntly, do NOT like the new O/S.
I have said for months that Vista may be the O/S that pushes Linux into the mainstream. I honestly like Vista, but when I put myself into the seat of someone who is not very familiar with computers, it's a pain. Many people have spent time painstakingly learning the basics for their XP systems; by changing the file structure and even the names of the tabs so thorougly, Microsoft has put them back to square one, and made not only their computers, but their operating systems obsolete.
But the biggest users are usually the business users. And Vista is, in my opinion, destined for modest success at best in that arena. If I were managing a network of computers on XP, my advice would be simple: don't upgrade. XP's extended support will go through 2011, and MS' next OS release will be two years on the market by then (ok, given that MS has NEVER met the deadline on an OS release, let's say one year).
Windows Vista is, in my opinion, not worth the cost of upgrading. Not unless it comes installed on a purchased machine. And it may well be a significant marketing blunder on the part of the boys in Redmond.
I own a Mac. But I mainly use a PC. What really makes me sour on using a Mac or even buying a Mac is firstly the fanatical Mac community that acts more like a cult at times and secondly the pretensiousness of Apple in how they market the thing. It's like they consider the on-line "jerk" to be their core market demographic.
When I hear some Mac guy talking about how they're doing all these neat things I just want to say "Yea, that's nice. I've been doing preemptive multitasking for a decade now. Sit down."
Check out this parody / spoof of the Mac vs. PC ads.
Tiger gives me few more reasons to stay a dog person.
|Today was a great day of disappointments for me on the computer front. After much pondering, for reasons I will explain, I decided to take a trip to the Apple store and Upgrade my Mac to OS-10.4 "Tiger". |
I have had a Mac for 3 years now. I spent $3000 on it, and have used it probably a grand total of maybe 80 hours. This is my own fault. There is nothing really wrong with it. It is just that I find myself using my PC. I'm a windows fan, even though that's not something most people will admit. As a skinner and a customizer there is much more possible in windows. This, along with a long list of reason why I don't use my Mac much, have caused it to be a bit neglected. Today I wanted to remedy that. So with much to-do I drove to the mall - a place I try to avoid at all costs - went into the Apple store and to my surprise managed to get a copy of "Tiger" without any of the sales people talking down to me. (This is something that I have become used to at the Apple store). $129 later I left the mall and aside from a great disappointment when I find out that Wetzel Pretzel is out of Grateful Garlic pretzels (I cried only a little), I start home with joy in my heart, and a fancy pull string bag full of OS-10.4 .
On a side note; I could not help but notice that the nice Apple black box with the big brushed silver X that Tiger ships in is almost an exact duplicate of the 1990's teaser poster for "Malcom X". Coincidence..... well, probably.
Now I get home, and the annoyances begin.
First a bit of background. I bought my Dual G4 Power Mac Right when OS 10.2 had just been released. 10.2 was a big improvement over 10.1 so I was pretty happy with it. It did what I wanted and I do not use the Mac much so I never updated to 10.3 "Panther". I still had iMovie, and iPhoto, and iDVD installed. They had been updated several times and worked fine (when I found the time to play with them). A year or so ago they quit giving away iDVD and I hardly noticed. I still had the version that came with 10.2 and I had never actually used it, so I did not care much. I remember Steve Jobs saying in his Keynote at the time, "You can still get iMovie, and iPhoto, and iTunes, for free, and if you buy "iLife" you get iDVD as well, plus a bunch of crap." OK so that's not quite a quote, but that was the gist of it. Shortly after that I became quite busy with my new job and much more interested in the PC side of things again. In short, I quit paying attention to what was going on with Apple. Sure I caught the highlights, "Garage Band" comes out and "Dashboard vs. Konfabulator", but over all my Mac attention span was about as short as the amount of time that my Mac was on. This, I discovered today, was a bit of a mistake for me.
Now, it seams that I have lost some software. I am a bit pissed, but I don't use the iApps often except iTunes, and that one primarily on my PC. So I decide to suck it up an live with it. I suppose if I cared enough I could do a fresh install of 10.2, then upgrade it to 10.4. But I don't quite feel up to that.
|Dashboard, or as I like to call it, "The Great Anti-Climax"
Moving on. Now lets check out these cool new apps. First, since I am a skinner and I was one of the first people to start messing with DesktopX, I have to check out DA, DA, DAAAA, Dashboard. Now Dashboard was getting a lot of airtime, because on the surface it seams a blatant rip-off of Konfabulator, which is more or less a Mac version of DesktopX. (Another debate all together; we won't get into it here). Well the good news is that Konfabulator should not have much to worry about. Dashboard pretty much sucks. Now this is my opinion only but I can tell you what: I'm not impressed. Sure the graphics are nice, sure they have some nice widgets. BUT, and this is a big but, YOU CAN NOT LEAVE A WIDGET RUNNING ON THE DESKTOP. They only appear on the "Dashboard". The dashboard is essentially a full screen window that darkens the rest of the screen, and with nifty effects pulls you widgets out to be visible. So essentially you are task switching to reach them. At this point you can just switch to the real app. I realize that this means that if you want to see any one Dashboard widget, you have to show them all. You can't, for example, leave a to-do list up on you desktop and work in an app; its all or nothing. This should be Apples slogan. OK OK, but the widgets are so pretty.... So are Konfabulators. Well, that is also disappointing, but perhaps I am overlooking something. I go to the Dashboard configuration. Humm what can I change... I can change the keys it uses, I can set up hot corners to call up the Dashboard. That's it. OK I'm still annoyed by this..... Lets move on.
Now still sticking with Dashboard I click on the Icon in the dock and it slides up this nifty tray of widgets. All of the provided widgets are very polished and work well. I try a few and am impressed by their cool spinney 3D effects that make it so the configuration for the widgets are on the back of each widget. You have to see this to under stand but its pretty sweet and makes me long for Longhorn to get its compositor working 100%. Hear that Ian? That sadly is about all that impressed me with Dashboard. When you go to the "More Widgets" webpage you find some nice widgets and some crap in about the same mix you find at WinCustomize or the Konfabulator gallery, but nothing to rock my world. Needless to say I don't need a "Next Episode of Stargate" countdown widget. That's what my PVR is for. One last thing of note: not all widgets are free. This is not surprising, but something to remember next time you see a pay suite or theme.
Well...one last bitch about Dashboard: I was assuming that since Apple makes dashboard and they have full control of the OS that it would be very well integrated. So I check out the weather widget. Its pretty sweet. Nice graphics. New shiny weather Icons, nice. Let me change the zip from the default of Atlanta to mine. Look there the 6 day forecast, that's nice. I continue playing with Dashboard and when you call up the bottom tray these little X's appear in the corner of all the widgets. One of the early problems we had with DesktopX is that people did not know how to close objects, so I am glad to see that they have included that. So I close the weather widget. This turns out to be a bit of a mistake. It seams when you close a widget it is as if it was never run. That's right, when I run the widget again I have to change the zip, position it, as well as set it to show the 6 day forecast, all over again. Now I don't know if this is the case with all the widgets, but it seems that Dashboard only remembers settings for widgets that are running. You can't open and close them at you leisure and expect to keep the settings you have established. You have to leave them running ALL THE TIME. Well like I said, you cant have them visible while you work in any other app, so I guess it is not really a drain on memory, but let me just say if I made a widget for DesktopX that behaved like that I would get flamed with complaints, and I would deserve it.
|Well, it is late, and I have been ranting too long. I shall try and summarize my OS 10.4 "Tiger" experience. |
The loss of my iApps was my fault for not reading the manual first but still, come on Apple, this is the kind of bait and switch that you would be screaming at Microsoft for doing, and everyone would be screaming for court action. Luckily Apples market share is so small that they can get away with things like that. (Well lucky for them at least). I assume that eventually I will crack an buy a copy of iLife that I will never use and Apple will be a little closer to being popular enough to start suing.
I am sure there have been tones of usability fixes and such, but the one thing that I was looking for, better Samba sharing, was still not there. Come on Apple, can't you have one of you programmers take a day to come up with a GUI for the smb.conf file? I have been able to right click on a folder or drive in windows and share it since windows 3.11. You just took Samba for UNIX, can't you afford to at least give it a pretty face?
As for Dashboard; very pretty at first glance. For a skinner or widget user it is pretty much useless. I will be keeping Konfabulator on the Mac and have already begun the search for a way to disable Dashboard. This is a great example of how an idea can be taken, yet not understood at all. I could be wrong. I'm sure some people out there are wild about Dashboard. I can just say I'm not one.
Upgrading Windows with Object Desktop 2005
With the recent release of MacOS X "Tiger" and Microsoft talking about the next major version of Windows, code-named "Longhorn", Windows 2000 and Windows XP users might be feeling a bit of tech envy. If so, Stardock has a cure for those OS blues in the form of Object Desktop 2005.
Object Desktop is actually a collection of OS extension utilities designed for Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP. When installed, users gain a host of new features that often go far beyond what future operating systems will provide. For example, Object Desktop 2000 was allowing users to "skin" the entire Windows UI, including the Start bar, before Windows XP was even a twinkle in Microsoft's eye. Object Desktop was providing features such as alpha bended shadows under windows before Apple had even coined the term "Aqua" to describe the MacOS X interface. And today, while Apple and Microsoft are playing technological leap-frog, Object Desktop 2005 has features that offer a glimpse of what may be coming to an operating system near you.
One of the features of Apple's new MacOS X Tiger operating system is "Dashboard". Dashboard allows users to add "widgets" that provide useful functionality and information on the desktop. Object Desktop 2005 not only has widgets but allows them to live on the desktop full time. Hot keys are available to show and hide them as needed but they can also live side-by-side with your desktop icons. It was Object Desktop that delivered enhanced, end user created, mini-application functionality onto the desktop long before anything similar appeared on Windows or Mac in the form of DesktopX (one of the programs that makes up Object Desktop). DesktopX, however, doesn't stop at just widgets. Users can literally design their own desktop environments with it and export them for later use or to share with others.
Another hot-topic in the "OS Wars" has been Avalon. Avalon is a new display system that debuts in its full form in Longhorn. It allows all kinds of interesting effects to be achieved on the desktop. But Windows users need not wait until Longhorn to get a small taste of what Avalon can do. Object Desktop 2005 has WindowFX, a program that lets users scale windows on the fly, create transition effects and window morphing, shadows, and a host of transparency options. And as the Longhorn beta approaches, Stardock is already at work to make sure Object Desktop takes full advantage of new features available in Longhorn for developers. For users who are looking to have their Windows desktops appear similar to Longhorn today, they can do that with WindowBlinds. WindowBlinds allows for enhanced visual styles to be applied that can change the look and feel of Windows completely. It also speeds up the drawing of windows when they're being moved and resized over the base "Luna" visual style in Windows. It's so powerful that Alienware recently licensed it to create their Star Wars based desktops.
But Object Desktop isn't just about making Windows look and feel better. It's about productivity and functionality. A new program in Object Desktop 2005 is RightClick. RightClick lets users replace their desktop right-click menu with one of their own creation that can have links to programs, system information, virtual desktops, and much more on it. It can be brought up at any time by hitting the Windows key and is powerful enough to be used instead of the Windows Start bar (and includes an option to hide the Start bar). Major updates to other programs that make up Object Desktop along with the inclusion of a new Object Desktop LaunchPad help make Stardock's award-winning package compelling to power users and administrators alike.
All told, Object Desktop includes nearly two-dozen programs and has won numerous awards including PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award. It's $49.95 for the whole suite and entitles the user to a year's access to ObjectDesktop.net where new programs and updates to existing programs to Object Desktop can be found. With Longhorn looming, that means users of Object Desktop 2005 will be able to get the best of both worlds and not have to worry that their Mac-using friends have something over them. After all, the upgrade for Mac users to Tiger is $129, over twice as much as Object Desktop costs.
Product: Object Desktop 2005
Developer: Stardock Corp. (www.stardock.com)
Requires: Windows 2000/XP.
It may not be quite as easy as you think...
Update: yum makes life easier. To install a package, for exaple, The GIMP, you would go ito terminal and type 'yum install gimp' or for Firefox, 'yum install firefox' etc. No more web searching!!
Slowly making the desktop OS irrellevant
Welcome to the new frontier of personal computing!
Each and every one of the technologies I listed above have been around for a number of years now in one form or another. I've personally been using blogs and webmail for about 6 years now, network file storage for about 5, streaming media for about 4, and downloadable apps & games for the past 2 years. I've picked up these services from places like Google, Yahoo, Stardock, WinAmp (Shoutcast), GameSpy and my former University (and employer). Because of these services, I'm storing less and less information on my PC. My e-mail sits on far off servers, my writing sits on blogs, many of my important documents reside on file servers (both in my home and in places abroad), much of my music is streamed, or stashed away on my iPod. I even have software on Stardock's servers that I download on-demand. My computer is quickly becoming interchangable with any other computer that comes with a standard set of software.
So the technology exists in bits and pieces scattered among a dozen different companies, not much of it pulls together easily either. Stardock is on the cusp with their offerings, but as yet it doesn't feel like they all fit together as one coherent piece, though I'm sure that's on the horizon. Brad has even spoken about the need to integrate many of the features I listed above into the Operating System itself. This is also a subject of speculation when it comes to Google, or the secret plans of Microsoft. We're sitting on the edge of the cliff when it comes to the next major technological shift in home computing. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Stardock are all looking to the future and trying to determine how best to proceed.
Microsoft is going its usual way by leveraging it's massive Windows Operating System as the end-all-be-all solution to everything. Just cram more into the OS and it shall be good! So far they've done a pretty bad job at leveraging their muscle in the integrated technology and services area for the average consumer. WebTV, the aborted set-top box, their music player effort etc haven't worked like they would like. Their online services via MSN (and hotmail) also haven't really gotten the foothold they would like. This makes Microsoft perhaps the least likely to be the ones to realize and bring to reality this next step in computing, which is ironic considering they have the largest install base possible. They'll do the same thing in this area that they did with the Web. They'll ignore it until someone else comes in and exploits the full potential and does the back-breaking work of making the public aware of it. Then they'll come in and leverage their resources to make their product the dominant one.
Google and Yahoo are taking an interesting direction on this. They don't install stuff to your PC (with the exception of a few services like Desktop Search or Yahoo Messenger). You can do email (and by extension file storage), writing, calendar planning, person-to-person communication etc all via their web sites. Their offerings are available to you wherever you find a computer with an Internet connection, and they don't care if you're running Windows, MacOS or Linux. The only tool you need is a Web Browser. The services they offer are limited only by the imagination of their programmers and the connection speed of their users. But with broadband becoming the standard, speed is less of an issue now than it was. (On a side note, since Google publishes all of its APIs for use, I wonder how long before someone writes a program that uses a google email account as a file storage system, and instead of displaying mailbox contents, sorts and displays the attached files, using the emails attached as comments/descriptions)
Apple is one of the more interesting in this arena. The Mac Mini, the iPod (and soon wireless iPod... wiPod? Because! yuk yuk yuk...) and their focus on sleek, incredibly user friendly interfaces. Adding in a strong wireless integration feature to their products, connected with the .Mac services (file storage, email etc) and they'll have a very easy to setup (though expensive) sleek and sexy home information system. Video, music, television, Internet... all controlled centrally, all accessed easily from any device in the house. All connected to an unlimited number of online services. Pull out your iPalm anywhere there's a wireless network... grab your iCal calendar from your .Mac service, which is also instantly accessable from your home. The transition between home and work, or the mall or wherever becomes seamless as you carry with you your entire library of information. E-Mail, music, calendar, it's always with you.
Stardock presents a completely different side of the integrated/seamless online services issue. Stardock Central (SDC) is your one-stop-shop for everything SD related. All your products are downloaded from there directly, all you have to do is provide the system with your login and serial numbers. I have near-instant access to my software from any computer with SDC and a net connection. Add to SDC, JoeUser (and BlogNavigator which isn't quite where I'd like it to be yet in terms of usability) and WinCustomize and you have the integration of a strong online community and set of services. All of which are equally accessable from any net connected PC (sorry Mac and Linux users...). While Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Google are providing the service side of the networked platform, Stardock is providing the content... the applications and games. Same coin, different side.
Things have already progressed to the point that I have a small set of installers and files that I keep backed up to a CD, so that when I have to do a new install of Windows, I can get up and running and have my system customized as I like it within an hour. I need Firefox, Norton, SDC and my theme suite file. Install, download, done.
What we're moving towards however is the ability for me to reinstall my OS, fire up a web browser and click a button that says "Setup My System!" and boom, it's all there, pulled from web sites automatically, installed and configured the way I like it. All online. Take it one step further and it could be my network profile I pull up on any computer I ever sit down at in the world. We're getting there, just not quite there yet.
It's going to be interesting to see what happens in this arena in the next 5 years.