The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Where Does Microsoft Go From Here?

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on October 24, 2013

Microsoft’s software business isn’t going to evaporate overnight, nor will it likely suffer a significant decline in the near-to-mid term.  Their enterprise business in particular looks strong, due in large part to the momentum they’ve built, and the glacial pace of change at most large companies.  But I do wonder about their viability in the consumer space.  If I’m assured of always having access to the latest version of an OS if I buy a Mac, but will have to shell out even $100 every year or two for the same privilege on a Windows machine, I’m thinking the Mac is looking pretty good.  Now, I know that there are folks who aren’t all that tech savvy who are comfortable with Windows, and might not be likely to change.  But sooner or later, those folks are going to have to learn Windows 8, and if they have to learn a new UI, they might just decide to take a chance on OS X, or Chrome. 

That puts even more pressure on the Surface business, and Microsoft seems to recognize that.  The walls of Boston’s North Station commuter rail stop are covered with ads for Surface – “not just a tablet, not just a PC”.  And I have to admit, as a staunch iPad user, the concept seems right to me – to a point.  For the last 6 months I’ve used my iPad in conjunction with a Bluetooth keyboard case, which has (finally) allowed me to shed the ubiquitous notebook at meetings, really feel more productive in the airport with email, and has turned the iPad into a near-constant companion.  It does make the iPad less “iPad-like”, but when I want to do the “tablet thing”, I take the device out of the case, and voila, I’ve got that great immersive experience.

But I can’t really see myself creating new documents or presentations on the iPad, partially because the software just isn’t there.  To be honest, as much as Microsoft touts the availability of Office on Surface, I’m not sure I see that kind of work being something I’d find easy on a Surface either, though.  Maybe I’m old school, but I like creating on my 22″ monitor, where I can tile a few different windows, pull stuff from one document into another, and work on a big canvas.  The idea of hunching over a tablet to create a Powerpoint presentation seems to be something you’d do if you were it a total jam and had no other option.  Then there’s the issue of a pointer device.  Your fingers work great at swiping or tapping things, but trying to drag and precisely line up elements, especially on a little 10 inch screen is going to get frustrating really fast.  Maybe Microsoft will solve that problem some day, but I still feel that real creation is going to happen on big screens for a long time to come.  There’s a reason that the average monitor size continues to increase – people like working with bigger screens when they’re in one place.  

Having played with Surface tablets, I can attest – they’re good devices, well made and well designed.  I’m not sold on Windows 8 as a really great mobile OS, though, and I think Microsoft is going to have a tough time getting people to commit to them until they make up their mind as to what the device is – is it a tablet or is it a PC?  For now, I don’t think it can be both.

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