Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Windows 8 Can Wait

"The tales of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

                                                                  --The PC

As more and more mobile devices based on Apple and Android are sold, Microsoft feels it has to get in the action to remain relevant.  Some of the sales numbers point toward a trend moving away from desktop PC sales and toward mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.  Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by monopolizing the desktop PC market.  If you wanted to run a program and have maximum compatibility with other users, Microsoft Windows was the way to go.

Windows XP was a major step forward in operating systems.  It was simple, easy to use, and has remained relatively decent for the last 11 years.  Many enterprise users, such as large corporations and many small businesses, still rely on Windows XP for their computing needs.  This is because making change is expensive for businesses.  Many custom made programs and other software are designed to work with a particular operating system.  Upgrading can cost time and money.  Therefore, enterprise users typically wait to change operating systems.  When Windows Vista was released, it was a disaster. It was buggy, resource hungry, and difficult to use.  Even Microsoft admitted that Vista sucked.  Everyone began to wonder if Microsoft had lost its edge.  Perhaps the software giant was finished.  Microsoft, however, came through and produced Windows 7, which is the best operating system they have ever created.  Windows 7 proved to be the anti-Vista:  it was light on resources, relatively stable, and easy to use.  The interface was beautiful and intuitive.  Microsoft had redeemed itself.  

But now the market seems to be changing.  Microsoft feels the heat to get into mobile.  So it is working on Windows 8, which is a complete redesign.  The look and feel of Windows has been radically changed.  Instead of a start button and the typical layout we are used to, Windows 8 has done away with the start button and moved to a tile system for the desktop, one that is more compatible with touch screens.  Initial reports are that the new operating system is difficult to use, counterintuitive, and plagued with other problems.  Some feel it has been too rushed and will take several service pack updates to remedy.  Enterprise users are feeling nervous and likely won't jump on the bandwagon.  Consumers, looking for something new and fresh, might bite.  The stakes aren't as high for them.

I believe the whole post-PC prediction is wrong.  Desktop PCs are still useful for power users.  The keyboard is larger and more amenable to getting real work done.  Serious gamers and video editing enthusiasts still rely on the desktop and laptop PC.  Tablets and mobile phones are great for surfing the web, but taking notes, writing school papers, editing photos, editing video, and other important tasks are unwieldy and awkward on these devices.  For serious work, you need a serious computer.  And this isn't going to change anytime soon.

As for me, I never upgrade to the newest operating system when it comes out.  I always wait a few years until the bugs have been worked out.  I don't feel like being a guinea pig for the latest untested code.  If Windows 8 sucks, I may even skip it.  After all, I can do everything I need with Windows 7.  Why change?  

The other factor is GNU/Linux.  I am having fun with my installation of Zorin OS 6 Lite, a lightweight distribution based on Lubuntu, a lightweight version of Ubuntu.  It is light on system resources and stable as can be.  It never crashes.  It was free to download, and installation only took 20 minutes.  I almost felt guilty it was so easy.  Updates are smooth and carefree.  Plus I am immune to Windows viruses and don't have to run antispyware and antivirus programs which slow down my computer.  My six year old laptop has been resurrected (mostly from a deep cleaning that was causing it to overheat) by GNU/Linux.  I can even play HD video on it now, something I couldn't do before.  

I have my hard drive partitioned so I can dual boot Windows 7 and Zorin.  This allows me the best of both worlds.  I can still use my specialized Windows programs, but for surfing the web, I prefer my Chromium (open source version of Google Chrome) browser.  I can also use Firefox.  For office software, I use LibreOffice, which is an open source version of Microsoft Office.  It works the same way and allows me to save in Microsoft Word doc format and in open source text document formats.  Using WINE, a Windows emulator, I can run Windows software in Zorin.  It's pretty amazing.  

A few years from now I may change to Windows 8.  I am in no hurry, though.  If I had to, I could even survive on Windows XP for the next few years.  It's hard to get excited about shelling out cash for an operating system.  Maybe that's why I'll just stick with GNU/Linux--it's free.

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