Looking down the road to what appears to be a one-Windows-fits-all offering from Microsoft; I can say without hesitation, I dread the day it arrives. If you want to embarrass me, I’ll save you the trouble – I also said I didn’t want an iPad. Ironically, when I wrote that I didn’t want an iPad, I said that I was looking for the features Microsoft seems to be building into Windows 8 for tablets. What I failed to consider at that time is that I am a geek. I wanted those features, and I wanted the ability to build on that complex platform to give my users what I think they expect from me. It turns out, that most of my users don’t want that at all.
Since 1981, when first IBM PC came out, I have been giving my users something that was way more complicated, way more powerful and that demands way more knowledge than they wanted. In fact, most of the users that I support (work, friends, family) really don’t understand the PCs I provide to them or help them use. They learn specific applications and they use Windows the way a passenger uses a bus. The fact that Windows can do so much more than run Word, Outlook and Internet Explorer is lost on most users. In fact, most of the features of Word and Outlook go unused, and most users aren’t fully comfortable with Windows Explorer! If you want to test that, ask someone to change the default application for opening a file type – go ahead, I’ll wait.
For the first time, I am giving people something they want, like and understand – an iPad. Oh, I have some who complain that they can’t find their files, but they are in a minority that, amazingly no longer includes me. I don’t care where the files are. My apps always know where the files are, I can always open, delete and share those files, so why should I care where they actually reside? I was driving with a friend last week and I asked him if he felt the absence of a file system on his iPad was a drawback. He immediately replied: “it’s a blessing!”
Microsoft seems to be banking on the fact that users want more from a tablet; I doubt it. I think they want tablets to be, as Einstein said, "as simple as they can be, but no simpler" and for my money, and the money my boss trusts me to spend, I think Apple has nailed that with the iPad. The app that I developed for our iPhone and iPad users is dirt-simple to use, and I can honestly say that I’ve gotten more positive feedback on that app than any other piece of software I’ve ever written.
In fairness to Microsoft, maybe they do get it, maybe they know where this all has to go, but they also realize that there are a gazillion PCs out there running Windows and they can’t just throw the switch and change things. Microsoft is fighting momentum (conservation of energy) Einstein had something to say about that too. In fact, Einstein changed the law from conservation of energy to conservation of "mass-energy", recognizing that mass is converted to energy by E=mc2. One of the sad realities revealed by that simple equation is the amount of energy required to counteract momentum. So maybe the iPad is just a disruptive technology and Microsoft is fighting back the best way it can, or maybe Microsoft is trying to wring every last dollar out of its customer base at every turn and they are afraid to actually make life simpler for those who want it. A Windows world where some users have desktops and some laptops and some tablets, might be a nice place to live, if each user had what they want, and an operating system that fully exploited the box it was running on. Giving a desktop or laptop user a touch-based OS is like turning the on the sound on a TV in a sports bar – it’s a distraction that provides no benefit.
For almost 10 years, I used a Toshiba Portege Tablet PC. I loved those laptops; they worked as fully functional laptops and flipped around to create awesome slates. Unfortunately, the last model (M800) featured a full touch screen, even though Windows 7 was ill-equipped to take advantage of it. It caused me constant grief as people would point to stuff on my screen and cause actions to occur. When I tried to use the stylus for input, my palm was always doing something I wasn’t trying to do. After I got my first iPad, I ditched the Portege in favor of a lighter, no-touch ThinkPad.
Windows is like a railroad that never unloads its trains. The trains run for a while and then they stop and add a few more cars. The routes get more complex, serving more and more customers. The trains have gotten longer, carrying a wider and wider variety of loads. Microsoft seems to think we want an N-gauge version of the whole Windows train. I think most people want a mix of unit trains (like the one shown above), light-rail, subways, buses, cars and bicycles, and I think we are right to want those things.