Apple and Microsoft both change course

A few months back I wrote a post after being really annoyed by Windows 8.

The user interface was really impressive to look at, better than anything else on the market. There was just one little problem, working out how to use Windows 8 is completely unintuitive for existing Windows users. The start button is gone, the desktop is hidden and working out how to shut the machine down took a call to a Microsoft VP.

Well Microsoft seems to be listening to the complaints, and no, I was not the only person who found the design decisions unacceptable. Steven Sinofsky, the controversial head of the Windows team has left Microsoft. That is no guarantee that a change is coming but Windows 8 could be the greatest Operating System Microsoft has ever delivered if only they would ditch the ideology and make a product their existing fans can use without tearing their hair out.

Guy at computer

Computer guy via Shutterstock

Delivering the cool Metro interface and making it intuitive for existing users could be Microsoft’s chance to move ahead of Apple in the Operating System stakes for the first time since the Sculley era. But not necessarily, Apple also made a major management change recently as Scott Forstall was ousted and Jony Ive took sole control of the ‘design’ portfolio.

After Jobs, Forstall was the primary proponent of skeuomorphic design, the practice of making computer interfaces mimic their analog counterparts. And maybe not coincidentally, I wrote about skeuomorphic design being an irritating design tick shortly after the piece on Windows 8.

Skeuomorphic design is the reason that the bookreader on OSX and iOS is covered in fake looking wood and the reason other parts of the user interface are covered in fake looking leather. It looks fake because it is fake, it is a picture, not the real thing. My Macbook Pro is machined by robots from solid slabs of aluminium metal. Why spoil that with tacky fake wood and leather?

Another irritation with the skeuomorphic approach is that it quickly looks dated as the analog counterparts become obsolete. We don’t use floppy disks any more and only luddites still use a Rolodex or an appointments diary.

Reportedly Ives is not a fan of skeuomorphism and a move away from that approach seems likely. So Microsoft seems set to make a step towards Apple in usability and Apple seems set to take a step towards Microsoft in simplicity. Which may both be a win for users.

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  • Asterix

    I realized when Win 8 was announced that nothing I did actually needed Windows any longer, so I moved to Linux. Things work just fine, thanks.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Kind of a mistake in there in that if you hit the windows key on your keyboard you still get the start menu you remember. Haven’t bought in yet but it is inevitable.

  • sane37

    Name one US electronics manufacturer that doesn’t use Foxconn or labor from overseas.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Oh everyone in the industry knew Jobs was a jerk. Even Steve knew.

    But Steve never tried to be a role model.

    Steve had exquisite taste but he also had OCD. In his dying breath he was complaining about the aesthetics of the oxygen mask the medics were using.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Actually Foxconn is currently looking at setting up a manufacturing plant inside the US. It is hard to see how that could be for any other customer than Apple. I have no evidence to support it but my guess would be that the new plant is to assemble the Apple TV.

    But the number of jobs is likely to be rather small since outsourcing manufacturing jobs is only a temporary phenomena until the workers are replaced by robots. What is rather puzzling about Apple designs from a production engineering point of view is how much labor they require. No screws are visible on the outside so why is the inside filled with hundreds of tiny ones?

    An iPhone5 has a bazillion little pieces inside that have to be precisely aligned, none of which are big enough to support the type of alignment lugs that enable other manufacturer’s stuff to be assembled by robots. The AppleTV is going to be considerably larger and not have the same design contraints. It is also going to have a rather different set of distribution constraints. LCD panels are thin, the assembled and boxed TVs are much bulkier. It is easy enough to ship an iPhone from China direct to he consumer, a 747 is worth rather less than the value of iPhone5 cargo it can hold. An AppleTV is likely to be priced at no more than 2 to three times the price of that iPhone5 but the box is going to be several hundred times larger. So shipping by air is probably not cost effective.

  • Drew2u

    I have a feeling Operating Systems that we’ve grown up with are going to be obsolete in favor of the app approach – that using an app OS allows for greater control by microsoft/apple of programs and options.

  • doug105

    Yes but some how jobs got away with being a jerk.

  • hollywoodstein

    The sight of it flashing silver as it fluttered into the depths as the current took it away still gives me chills.

  • hollywoodstein

    Hey, I use a Rolodex! j Ever since my laptop got knocked into a river, and my backup media failed. It’s the ultimate hard copy.

  • hollywoodstein

    J’accuse!

  • Krusher

    Every time a new release of Windows comes out, I hate Microsoft more. It took me a year to begin to get used to Windows 7, and I STILL hate it.

  • goulo

    Hmm? What do you think this is – a site about politics or something?

  • A reader in Colorado

    You caught my Microsoft fluffing whoredom, whatever shall I do ;). One more piece of evidence that I’m really a Teabagger masquerading as a liberal on this blog. But, yes, they’re all evil, those who do that! :)

  • Naja pallida

    Hey, be fair, Microsoft does too… the same kind of factories churn out Xboxes. :)

  • A reader in Colorado

    Is there anything here about Apple using foreign workers at slave wages to undermine the U.S. labor force?

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