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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.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1840480,00.asp

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fantasy, I’d consider that the scenario he envisages is quite some way off, in a future where standalone PCs have been replaced by terminals in the home and office, and where improved communication systems enable us to have our computing needs served to us rather than met by purchasing and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:
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/newsroom/winxp/VistaBeta1FS.mspx


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.

Consumers

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.

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Last Post by jwenting
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For years people complained that Microsoft released new versions too quickly.
Now they're going slow and they're criticised for not releasing them often enough...
They were criticised for putting too much into the OS (to the point where some governments forced them to offer stripped down versions).
Now they release a new version with not a lot of visible differences to the current one and they're criticised for not changing enough.
In many cases the people uttering that criticism are the same in all cases, showing how hypocritical they really are.

If you're called Microsoft it seems you can do nothing right, but that might be true for any large company.

When Windows XP was released the same criticism was heard.
XP Pro was supposedly just "a glossed over Windows 2000 which noone will want" and XP Home "what Windows ME should have been all along", many advised people to not buy XP because of that but to stick with Win2K or Win98.
I don't have sales figures but I think XP has since outsold every previous version, for a large part on upgrade licenses (belying the words of those who predicted noone would want to upgrade).

But the story goes deeper. There's a lot of wishful thinking involved in the current generation of people claiming that "Windows is dead".
They want through their rethoric to pursuade people to move to competing operating systems (rather weird as those same people are also claiming that Microsoft is this big evil monopoly and that people have no choice but to buy Windows, hypocrisy again).
By claiming that an upcoming version (or the current production version) is useless, even without any data to corroborate that point of view, they attempt to chip away at the confidence people have in Windows (which, despite the problems which are inevitable in a huge piece of software used by tens of millions of users, is a remarkably solid piece of engineering with which most users are quite happy).

As you say, major change to the user interface would be unacceptable from a usability point of view.
Those tens of millions (if not more) users are used to the way their product works, a way which has evolved over a period of some 15 years to be extremely pollished and effective.
That user interface is the eternal envy of Microsoft's competitors, to the point where they're in complete self-denial about the qualities of that user interface and incorporate radically different ways of doing things in their own products not because those ways are superior but for the sake of being different.
They don't seem to understand that people LIKE to have things the way Microsoft evolved them (not that it's perfect, nothing is, but it's darn good) and that Microsoft has some of the smartest user interface experts in the world working for them to ensure that that user interface will continue to be responsive and intuitive (2 things many competing OSs and application suites need to seriously work on).

So because they can't win from Microsoft on merit, they try the old fashioned way of blackmail and smut throwing.
To some very limited success in that they do cause some people to believe that "Microsoft is evil" but most of those people are pragmatic enough to use Microsoft products anyway because they're superior.

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Interesting comments, jwenting, but I must reflect that I'm not actually claiming that "major change to the user interface would be unacceptable from a usability point of view."

I'd envisage the move to a 3D desktop to be a very beneficial thing which should lead to a new way of conceptualising the work we perform on PCs which is far more akin to what we do in the physical world. Files etc can be 'stacks' of objects, and program windows we are working on can be 'tucked away' out of the road for a time while we're working on something else. There are all sorts of possibilities which a 3D interface introduces to us, and which can make working on a PC much more intutive.

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I know you don't claim so, and neither do I (necessarilly, as long as the basic functionality can be accessed through the old system).
But we're neither of us "average" users. For most people switching to a 3D desktop would likely be enough reason to not switch at all.
And for hardware and software manufacturers who rely on the specifics of a certain desktop any major changes may cause so much effort on their part that they won't consider it worth the effort.
As Windows is used mainly by non-technical people who are more or less computer illiterate, and ever more as an embedded OS in for example media centers, major UI changes would likely either cost Microsoft in upgrading users or require the old interface to be retained as an option, increasing maintenance effort.
So why not retain the existing and effective UI?
Maybe the UI could be more open, so users could effectively plug in another one in its place (and on a more fundamental level than changing the shape of buttons and window borders), and maybe Microsoft is going that way, but I don't envision there to be a viable business case for them to incorporate major changes in the core paradigms of the interface as it is delivered.

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