Apple and Microsoft — About Philosophy

July 31st, 2015

So in recent days, more and more tech pundits have published comparisons between OS X El Capitan, still a ways from release, and Windows 10, which arrived this week for download and bundled with some new PCs. Looking over these two, which actually derive an idea or two from one another, you can see where Apple and Microsoft have seriously diverged in how they approach platforms.

For years, Microsoft has touted Windows Everywhere, meaning that, whatever device you use, you’d have access to a version of Windows. This would extend to point-of-sale devices and other gear that doesn’t necessarily strike you as related to a PC, though they are, in fact, computers. Windows 10 takes that integration attempt a step further by building an operating system meant to work on a host of devices. But there will be touch-centric and mouse-centric interface changes as needed.

So when you use a convertible PC note-book, one that can act as a tablet with a removable or rotating display, and one that works as a regular PC, there’s a Continuum mode. It can be made automatic or require manual switching, but it will deliver the right input scheme for your setup.

In passing, I wonder how some people might react if they don’t get the memo, or OK everything and have Windows 10 switch modes when they didn’t expect it. I also gather hardware makers will also have to adjust their drivers to allow for the smoothest switch.

The other problem is the so-called Universal app, which means a developer creates one version that works on any Windows 10 device. The problem is that a Universal app is also “fat,” meaning it has the binaries for both mouse and touch versions and is thus potentially much larger. This could become a serious problem for a note-book with a small SSD, quite common, or a smartphone without lots of storage. Contrast that to Apple’s approach in iOS 9, where the OS downloads will be smaller, and you’ll download apps stripped of the code you don’t need on your device.

Apple also does not believe that you can integrate a toaster oven with a refrigerator, to use Tim Cook’s famously exaggerated example. Thus Mac note-books do not have touchscreens, and the iPad, although keyboards are available, is primarily touch-centric. The operating systems may share some code and features, but they are optimized for the different user conditions. Integrating, to Apple, would remain a poor compromise, and it’s an open question whether putting Windows 10 everywhere is actually going to work.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether those convertible PCs will succeed in a declining market where Apple is one of the few companies to grow sales and market share. Right now you pay a premium to have a note-book that can double as a touch-based tablet, and the sales case has yet to be proven. This fall, prices are expected to decline for such gear, but, again, that doesn’t mean people want all-in-one devices of this sort, as opposed to a computer with an integrated display, such as the iMac.

So the features touted by PC fans as superior to OS X are partly related to philosophy. You don’t need Continuum, but Apple has Continuity, providing for some level of integration among your Apple devices. The operating systems and the way you interact are different but you can still switch rom one to the other more smoothly. Well, mostly, because Continuity, and the Handoff feature can be buggy. One hopes things will be better when El Capitan is finalized.

The other difference is Cortana. Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, remains on mobile gear, because Apple believes these are more personal devices that are a better fit for such a feature. Microsoft, wanting to have the same things everywhere, more or less, brought Cortana to the Windows 10 PC, bugs and all.

While it may be suitable to some — and I expect home users will benefit most from Cortana — early reviews indicate “she” is buggy, and voice recognition is apt to cut off with a response before you’re finished. A famous example is asking the name of the President of the United States. Cortana may cut off before “States,” and thus identify the President of United Airlines instead. Surely that and other recognition glitches will be fixed before long, but Cortana is something Microsoft has had for a while, starting with the Xbox gaming console. So it’s hard to excuse problems of this sort.

Apple could have released a version of Siri for OS X, but hasn’t done so. The use case is questionable, whereas Microsoft has no compunctions about throwing something out there for those who might want to use it. Or maybe just for bragging rights.

That said, it’s troubling that Windows 10 appears to have shipped with loads of bugs, not just in Cortana, but in Mail and other apps. While you expect glitches early on, and OS X Yosemite wasn’t immune by a long shot, there appears to be too much going on that’s not so pleasant. It may be that Microsoft ran headlong into getting Windows 10 out for back-to-school PC sales, hoping the worst glitches would be fixed by fall.

OS X El Capitan will probably appear no later than late October, and one hopes the worst bugs will be eradicated. But doing any comparison is a little unfair right now, particularly for features not fully baked. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the next OS X is not just a bug fix update. There are lots of under-the-hood changes that promise better performance and security. The feature enhancements promise to improve productivity. So far most of what Microsoft is offering with Windows 10, aside from a couple of controversial features, is the removal of the Windows 8/8.1 excesses, and a few features “borrowed” from the Mac to improve multitasking.

But Windows 10, absent the bugs, performs well enough, and the Microsoft Edge browser is good enough that the company ought to consider a Mac version. That’s saying a lot, but the enterprise won’t switch until they know everything’s all right, and that may take a year or two to happen. Meantime, PC sales will continue to decline.

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3 Responses to “Apple and Microsoft — About Philosophy”

  1. Robert says:

    Actually, the way universal apps work, you upload the universal code to the Windows Store. When the user downloads it, the Store only gives the user a version optimised for their device. So it’s not fat binaries like back when Apple was making the switch from 68000 to PowerPC, etc.

    • @Robert, Thanks for the clarification. This was not something the tech people I contacted understood. That’s actually the same as what Apple will do with iOS 9 and savvy apps. You’ll only get the code optimized for your device.


  2. DaveD says:

    After reading (lot of it here) about the “new” Windows 10 and seeing those TV commercials with babies, an old song came to mind. In 1969, Peggy Lee sang “Is That All There Is?” a melancholy tune.

    It is the refrain portion of the song that I think of the current state of Windows and the “wintel” PC industry. To support my view with another phrase, “The trend is your friend.” which was applicable in assessing stock value. We know what that trend is for PC sales over the last few years. So, “If that’s all there is all my friends, then let’s go dancing…”

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