John C. Dvorak has a vision and I suspect it may be myopic. Over at Ziff-Davis’s PCMag, the renowned John C. Dvorak has witnessed Windows Vista’s arrival as an almighty dull thud, and sees recent events as a potential portent of the demise of the mighty Microsoft.
Windows Vista is a hollow shell of what it should have been he considers, and the omission of the previously discussed Windows File system the empty space in that shell. With Apple’s move to the x86 platform future versions of its OS may reign supreme, according to John’s prediction, and become dominant on desktops. In the server world, John suggests, the freeware LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl) will become dominant and relegate Windows Server OS, ASP, IIS and .NET to the role of ‘bit players’. Google will become the dominant force of the Internet, and the provider of online applications for us to use. Microsoft, he suggests, is destined to retreat to being merely the provider of Office applications software and a gaming console.
What are we to think of such predictions?
This writer for one is unconvinced. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest that every facet of what John has predicted is a nonsensical fantasy, I’d consider that the scenario he envisages is quite some way off, in a future where standalone PCs have been replaced by terminals in the home and office, and where improved communication systems enable us to have our computing needs served to us rather than met by purchasing and installing software. That future, I’d consider, is still much more within the realms of science fiction that the thrust of John’s argument would suggest.
Rather than a doomed concept which will mark the demise of Microsoft, I’d be more inclined to consider Windows Vista as simply
• another stage on the path to that future
• an OS which has the capacity to introduce to the mass market a level of multi-tasking not yet realized
• new levels of interactivity between people and their PCs
• a reason for hardware developers to pay far more attention than previously to the provision of high powered systems which do not drain the power grid.
Even the most cursory glance should tell us that Windows Vista is an OS designed with multi-core processor systems and advanced graphics capability in mind. Everything on the desktop becomes a 3D object, and window transparency and translucency becomes a functional feature rather than ‘eye candy’. In the physical world we view things in 3 dimensions, with objects on top of objects, and are easily and intuitively able to reach for objects further down in the pile of work in front of them and bring those to focus. A more instinctive approach to doing this on our PCs is a welcome step indeed. Many of the eventual user interface features of Vista are not yet included in the Beta version currently being circulated for testing.
Much has been written of the added Security features of Vista, and these go beyond mere internet applications security. At a more basic level there is increased protection for connectivity with other users and even system protection in the form of improved control of device driver installation which should help users avoid system problems which have previously accompanied device installation.
A fuller mention of the innovative features to be included can be found in the Press release here:
There are some considerations which John’s analysis does not take into account, however.
Hardware and Software interaction
There is more involved in the development of newer microprocessors than simply the addition of extra cores. Even single core modern processors have the rudiments of Digital rights management hardware protection built into them and those features will inevitably be improved upon. Content distribution and copyright protection are major issues in today’s world, and hardware manufacturers have been working had in hand with such people as software developers and the recording/publishing industry toward a resolution to the problem, and it’s my understanding that Intel have been leading the way in relation to development of on chip ‘multimedia’ features. Apple’s move to Intel is to do with more than simply the availability of a cool running notebook chip, you can be sure, and the recent closer ties between IBM and the Linux community will see them increasingly sidelined as a consumer choice. The hardware/software interaction which will address digital rights management will almost certainly see multimedia content only usable on the platform which supports the way in which it is distributed. Expect Microsoft’s development of a distribution method similar to Bittorrent as part of this move, rather than as a ‘caving in’ to the prevalence of downloaded content.
Future processor development will also be focusing attention on ‘Virtual machine’ capability. The ability to run older software in a ‘virtual machine’ which truly does not degrade performance provides, of course, the backwards compatibility that is so important to acceptance in the consumer realm.
Graphics card developers also will have pressures placed on them. No longer will gamers and 3D gaming display card developers rule the roost in hardware development, and we should see the standardization of features which should lead to the wider availability of cheap and very capable display circuitry. DirectX 10 is to become a central component of the OS, and the WGF 2.0 features to be built in go well beyond the features currently available on display cards. 3D applications will be required to operate via the operating system rather than bypass it, and future display cards will have to differ in speed rather than in features.
Expect also to see the Xbox develop as much more than simply a games console. Xbox 360 is a home entertainment, connected device to a far greater extent than the original Xbox was. There’s a healthy level of interest in the ‘Media Centre PC’ also, and yes, both of those devices make heavy use of .NET. I believe we should expect greater convergence and interactivity between the devices we use in our homes, and that leads me to my next point.
Are we forgetting that the PC industry is now consumer driven to an extent not previously encountered? Far from a work tool sitting on the office desk, the PC is now an everyday household appliance, and that means major change needs widespread consumer acceptance. It also means that change needs to pay careful consideration to backwards compatibility to a much greater extent than previously.
I hardly think, either, that Mum, Dad, Grandma and the bloke who lives in the flat across the road are ready yet to become ‘Big Brother’ style slave to a centralized computer system, which is the road down which your vision and my speculation is headed. WinFS might be a sad omission, and it’d have been nice to have some of the tedium of file management removed for us. But ultimately it’s OUR data and we’re pretty protective of it. We want things compartmentalized, not centrally stored and/or managed for us. Most importantly we want our personal details and actions kept private and under our own control. It remains to be seen whether or not the improved security features of Vista will help us to do that, and this will be the most telling factor in its eventual success or failure I believe.
As far as eventual public acceptance of the user interface features of Vista I’ve no doubt that will come. Vista promises to give us a more natural form of interaction with our PCs. Let me give one small example.
Like many other people I’ve a mess of paper sitting on the desk in front of me. I can pick up the document I’m currently focused on, hold it aside and read the one underneath it. I’ve a couple of envelopes sitting propped up beside the monitor where my eye catches them, because they’re mail that requires urgent attention as soon as I’ve finished with this article. It’s a natural and intuitive process to deal with objects in this manner, and the fact that Vista will allow me to deal with program windows as objects in just that intuitive way makes it a highly desirable thing to have. I see no other OS alternative that’s exploring that facet of operation in any realistic manner whatsoever.
There was quite an outcry when Windows XP was introduced. But we soon got used to ‘eye candy’ and we certainly got used to the wonderful ‘Wizards’ which comprised much of the maligned ‘bloat’. I suspect we’re quite ready and willing for the eye candy and Wizards to grow up and become truly functional parts of our everyday lives.