W8

(Hey, it’s flurry day. Multiple posts all at once. Sorry, gotta write when it’s time to write.)

I find I’m a bit of an outlier in that I like Windows 8. Mostly.

Quite seriously, the situation reminds me of XP. Same complaints, same ‘almost’, same… ok, yah, the complaints also existed for ME (shudder). But here’s the deal. XP was an attempt to bring together and expand existing trends, while ME was mostly about dumbing the system down to the lowest user. Windows 8 is, like XP, about chasing where the present seems to be aiming.

Let me start by reminding people that XP, when it first came out, sucked. When it came out the library for which I was the Computer Guy was mostly NT, with some 2000. (And a little *nix and a handful of Mac boxen, but I digress.) Because the state paid for it we pushed XP onto a lot of our system, and I spent lots of hours “fixing” things.

Frankly, XP wasn’t good till SP1. It wasn’t great till SP2. But SP1 and SP2 happened, with 1 fixing the problems and 2 tying things together and bringing in the pieces that should have been there but weren’t. And, well, while I’m no longer the computer guy at that library I have one computer in my possession that is still running XP(SP3). Because it works.

So my very first thing to note about Windows 8 is that it’s almost certainly going to be mediocre at best till SP1 comes along. That’s the patch that’ll fix a lot that’s broken. Maybe even add some of the minor things previously not included. On the other hand, unlike XP raw, I am not having much trouble with Win8. Though I know a lot of people who are, so I can understand calling it W8 (wait) instead. Maybe.

Before I go onto praising it, however, I’d like to point out a bit of the obvious – or apparently not so obvious. Windows 8 isn’t just Win7 with a touch-oriented start screen. It’s an operating system that includes Win7 just as XP built on NT and 2K – not so much an extension as generational advancement. The biggest problem I think Windows 8 is going to have is that Win7, unlike NT/2K, is actually a well-rounded and good platform. This makes it hard to be willing to advance to the next stage. Digression – if’n I were Microsoft, I’d consider offering the Win7-Win8 upgrade discount again in about a year, or shortly after SP1 rolls out. Whenever it looks like it’s time for remorse to settle in. Anyway, on to praise.

Here’s the thing I think Microsoft did. They looked at some major trends in the computer world and decided they were going to continue, and the current progression of Windows type operating systems would get squeezed out as inapplicable if they did. So rather than being forced to jump after competitors showed it could be done, they decided to grab first. Their sheer size means that it’s likely most competitors will wind up having to say how they’re different, thus reinforcing Microsoft’s strength. So the major trends…

Increasing mobile systems at the expense of desktops. Desktop sales, whether home, school, work, enterprise, or whatever, are flattening. We won’t quit buying them, but they’re not going to continue to sell at increasing rates. In fact there are some indicators that they’re going to drop below replacement levels. There are several reasons for this, of which one key is the power of the small processor. Back in 1983 my first personal computer was a KayPro II. Pretty much any cellphone on the market, to include pretty much every “disposable”, has more memory and a stronger processor than that box did. Put it another way. If you have a smartphone, you have more memory and a stronger processor than what was minimally required to run Windows 3.1, and probably more than enough to run Windows XP. Yeah, that software I was just praising could run on many of today’s smartphones. And tablets and, well, you get the picture. So if you can take a desktop with you why do you want an actual desktop? Well, monitor, physical connection, maybe a keyboard or specialized entry system. And some businesses need the power that is crammed into today’s desktops – the modern tablet just isn’t enough. Keep that in mind, but for now it’s the reason desktops are going away. Notice that these are exceptions, however, because for most others the mobile systems are “just as good.”

Next major trend, “the cloud”. I’ve complained about the cloud a time or two, but let’s get serious. “The cloud” is actually several things, and all of them are becoming more and more common. The start is distributed storage. There’s also distributed processing. These two things mean that provided your personal connection is set up to use them, you can have a much larger virtual computer with you for the times you need it. So you play with large games but your tablet’s only got room for one at a time? No problem. Or videos you want to watch, or music library, or… But wait, there’s more. (sigh)

See, “the cloud” can, and sometimes does, mean vpn connections as well, and with those connections acting as terminals on virtual systems. OK, time to go back in history again. Used to be you had one server that did all the work, and it switched between all the users at dumb terminals – terminals that at most recorded some of the keystrokes. Smart terminals were great as it meant a lot of basic processing could be done at the desk, and the server only did the heavy lifting. Well, we’re coming back to that. You can see hints where users can have their system act as virtual smart terminals for either a main computer (desktop) of their own or a virtual system on a shared “server”. (That’s in quotes because some people will have actual servers and others desktops that hold one or two virtuals.)

So here’s what we’re looking at. People using their mobile most of the time, and if they need more processing they can have their mobile act as a smart terminal for a larger system or they can just go to a larger system.

Enter Windows 8. First, it works the same regardless of whether it’s on mobile (to include smartphone) or desktop or even small server. Everything is the same. So now the user doesn’t have to learn different strokes or moves for each system. Even better the user doesn’t have to remember to use different commands when the system is acting as main or as smart terminal.

Add the second – syncing. We already have systems that do it, but it’s built into Windows 8. If you start a couple of websites in the background and get partway through a couple of projects on your tablet, then get to work and open your desktop, the system knows you had those two websites open and were partway through those couple of projects. So not only can you use all userboxes the same way, you can switch between your userboxes at your convenience.

Win8 is designed to work and sync across the cloud and across multiple types of actual user systems. Or to rephrase it: The ultimate goal of Win8 is to ‘just be there’. And from my point of view it seems to have gotten a great deal of the way to that.

One last bit of discussion, dealing with the MS vs Apple vs *nix discussion. Until games – popular games – are regularly released on Apples and *nix boxes, Microsoft will dominate the individual user market. Simultaneously, until Apple gets serious about enterprize operations instead of individual blackboxing, it will continue to be prized by individuals and businesses working as cooperatives of individuals. In other words, the dominant operating system of the computer world of two to four years from now will be Microsoft’s product. And Microsoft has decided to jump to the future instead of being dragged there with everyone else. Barring niche products, if you’re in the computer world and not learning and mastering Windows 8, you’re behind the curve.

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