Microsoft's Windows 8 and Apple's Mac OS X Lion show off the two companies' respective approaches to mobility and the future.
Microsoft's Windows 8 match up against Apple's Mac OS X?
operating systems are reflections of their respective companies' evolving needs
and philosophies. In the case of Windows 8, widely expected to be released in
2012, Microsoft finds itself confronted with two considerable tasks: convince a
billion-strong user base that it needs to upgrade so soon after Windows 7, and
make inroads into the tablet and mobility markets. For Apple, the ultimate goal
seems to be bringing Mac OS X more in line with iOS, which powers the iPad and
iPhone-in the process, emphasizing Apple's self-focus as a mobility-tech
response to that burgeoning mobility market has been to design an operating
system equally adept at handling the needs of both tablet and traditional PC
Windows 7 was about returning to roots, Windows 8 is about maintaining those
roots while moving forward in a big and new way," Steven Sinofsky, president of
Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Sept. 1 posting on
blog. "Moving in a
new direction always brings engineering challenges as well as challenges in
just talking about what we've done."
In a posting a
day earlier, he'd insisted that Windows 8's more tablet-centric interface will
peacefully coexist with its desktop one.
"If you don't
want to do any of those -PC' things, then you don't have to and you're not
paying for them in memory, battery life or hardware requirements," he wrote in that Aug. 31 missive
"If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease
and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the
Windows desktop as just another app."
of Windows 8 showed a tablet-centric user interface based on a set of colorful
tiles, heavily reminiscent of the design for the company's Windows Phone. Those
glimpses led some in the blogosphere to believe that Microsoft was devoting
most of its energies to creating something that could combat Apple's iPad
head-on. Now, it seems, Microsoft is determined to show the upcoming Windows as
deep and complex enough to meet the needs of multiple form factors.
Over the past
few weeks, the official Windows 8 blog has focused on everything from support
for USB 3.0 to Windows Explorer revisions to the reasoning behind the changes
in user interface. Current rumor also suggests Microsoft could hand out
quad-core tablets loaded with a test version of Windows 8 to attendees at its
BUILD conference in mid-September. Windows 8 is widely expected to launch
sometime in 2012.
Apple's freshly released Mac OS X "Lion" clearly takes many of its design
elements from the company's work with its iOS operating system. Those elements
include a baked-in Mac App Store, with access to a wide variety of full-screen
apps-a spiritual descendent of the App Store long available for iOS devices.
Lion also supports an increased range of gesture control, including page and
image zoom and full-screen swiping.
At the same
time, Lion includes features that make it a more powerful and supple PC
operating system, including Mission Control, which allows users to "zoom out"
of their desktop for a bird's-eye view of everything running on the system, and
FileVault's XTS-AES 128 data encryption for both internal and external drives.
Apple's continuing drive to make its PCs lighter and slimmer, it's clear the
company is embracing a mobility-is-best philosophy for every aspect of its
business. That's in contrast to Microsoft, which at this juncture seems
determined to satisfy all the needs of diverse demographics, from desktop-bound
power users to tablet aficionados. If the latter can pull off its vision of "no
compromises" with Windows 8, and offer something that fulfills those needs for
those varied groups, then the Windows franchise can continue its solid sales
run for another few years. Apple, on the other hand, can focus its energies on
a narrower philosophical mission, which could also help it in the long run.
BUILD conference will likely reveal more about how the company intends to walk
the "no compromises" tightrope with Windows 8.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter