Windows Power Users and the Ubuntu Superphone


Recently, I received a question via our website on one of my recent blog posts. One of the creators of Classic Shell, a Windows program that adds Start Menu functionality among other things, asked:

"What do you think is the future of Windows power users once Windows 7 industry support runs out like is currently happening to the even more powerful XP Professional?"

I subscribe to the "every other version of Windows" theory. I'm not sure who came up with the idea, but it tends to hold true: the bold ideas implemented poorly in one version of Windows are typically fixed in the following version. Users should really hold out and upgrade on every other version. (Keep in mind this is a loose theory -- it's not strictly every single version of Windows, and I'm sure this explanation conveniently merges some releases to better fit. Also, note that this leaves out the business-oriented NT line, including Windows 2000 - I'm focusing on consumer products.)

Bad : Windows versions pre-3.0 were pretty rough -- just a layer over DOS -- and you can start with that group as "bad" since these versions didn't seem to do much for the average user other than provide a basic GUI.

Good : Windows 3.0/3.1 was a huge improvement as far as increasing user productivity, and it put Microsoft on the path to OS dominance.

Bad : Windows 95 introduced a radical new interface. It would be quite a stretch to call Windows 95 "bad," but it certainly had a lot of quirks left over from the DOS days, memory issues, couldn't support big drives... plus it came with IE 4 from the dark days when MS had no legitimate browser competition. Users got to learn all about the BSOD, and the "Microsoft sucks" bandwagon got into gear.

Good : Windows 98 (especially SE) improved upon everything from 95 and became more or less the standard until XP came out.

Bad : Windows ME is often regarded as the worst Microsoft OS ever, according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_ME I made the mistake of upgrading at the time, and I concur.

Good : Windows XP is still a great OS, despite being 10 years old. It took everything from the far more stable Windows NT line, wrapped it up in a new skin and is still on a ton of computers today. I can forgive some of the security problems since it is a different computing world than we had in 2002, and that the OS still runs perfectly well today is a testament to how good it was at the time.

Bad : Windows Vista was a debacle, of course. It tried to introduce UAC, Aero and quite a few other features. In reality I think this OS ushered in a ton of improvements. Had it not been for the heavy-handed UAC and the lack of compatible drivers, this could have been more successful. And I suppose that's the idea behind this theory... everything introduced in one version (such as Vista), was fixed in the next ---

Good : Windows 7 is spectacular. From a functionality and security perspective, it is hands-down the best OS Microsoft has released, in my opinion.

Bad : Windows 8 follows the trend. MS released a bold new feature with Metro. Many people hate it. My guess is that Windows 9 will come out sooner than expected, and it'll fix what ails version 8. They will give you the option to boot into the environment you prefer; Metro will be much better integrated into the desktop world, and vice versa; it won't take 4 steps to shut down the machine; and something akin to the Start menu will come back. Power users, business users and anyone else who actually has to WORK with their computer will be happy.

I don't think, as mentioned in my blog post, that MS will split the OS into two versions -- touch and non-touch -- there is too much riding on the integration. And that idea itself has a lot of merit. I would absolutely love if my phone, tablet and computer all had the exact same programs, features and documents all the time with no effort on my part.

However, I think we're so close to the true workstation that the idea of trying to integrate everything will be forgotten as an oddity of circumstance, like the 8-track player. The 8-track was invented in the mid-60s due to a need to play music in cars (and originally jets) and the LP wasn't up to the task. When cassette tapes appeared in the late 60s and grew rapidly in popularity, people of my generation (who didn't live through the transition) wonder why the 8-track ever existed... it was an inferior technology for the mass market, and it seems like people could have just waited until the cassette came out.

That's what I think we'll be saying about the integration of the phone, tablet, ultrabook, laptop and desktop -- why did we even try? Soon enough, we will have one device (a phone, I expect) that packs computing power sufficient for virtually everyone except hard-core 3D gamers, image/video editors, etc. Instead of carrying around a phone, tablet and laptop, we'll have our main computer (the phone) and various workstations to plug into. Plugging into a tablet workstation would give us a bigger screen and a secondary battery, but it'll still use the main phone CPU. A laptop workstation (if it still exists) would be a yet-bigger screen, a bigger battery, a full-size keyboard, and expansion ports. A desktop workstation would provide the normal mouse and keyboard, multiple monitors, AC power, big speakers and perhaps even a secondary CPU and more RAM. The "integration" of all the parts will be a moot point -- it's all your normal pocket computer running at different sizes. Some phone manufacturers have already tried to do this with their "lapdocks" and other add-ons, but it's not quite there yet*.

As for me, I'll probably skip Windows 8 unless major improvements appear in a service pack. My real question is whose UI principles will win out for Windows 9 when we get to the workstation concept. Google seems to be the closest at the moment with Android + the Chromebook. As much as I respect Google, many of their UI choices make me insane -- finding features is like playing hide and seek with a leprechaun (I'm looking at you, Gmail). I actually hope Microsoft pulls it together. Imagine a phone-based computer that ran Metro on the phone, let you choose an interface when you got to the tablet workstation and gave you a normal desktop environment on any bigger workstation. With better integration between the two interfaces, that would be a nice setup.


* Believe it or not, only a few days after writing this response, I saw an article about the new Ubuntu phone. It runs a Linux-based phone OS in phone mode, and it powers a full Ubuntu Linux desktop when you plug it into other peripherals. I can't wait for this to come out.

Jeff Robertson

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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