Thursday, May 27, 2004

Thoughts on Longhorn ...

While browsing Paul Thurrott's SuperSite, I couldn't help but browse his Longhorn Prototypes Gallery. Being somewhat of a technology buff, this was a natural bunny trail I had to walk down. I've been a Windows user longer than I've been a Mac user albeit, I'm far more the Mac user now than I am the Windows user. How time changes things.

I like pictures. I like pictures of up and coming technology - I like pictures of Longhorn. I'd love pictures of OS 10.4 "Tiger", but Apple isn't as forthcoming as Microsoft in that area which is a double-edged sword to them. On the one hand, Microsoft (MS) is huge and can afford to release builds for public viewing/developer consumption. Apple, on the other hand, is not as "blessed" with a multi-billion dollar R&D budget, and Apple thrives on secrecy. In a sense, this keeps the UI scalpers from having at the OS before its release.

But I digress. Longhorn pix are why I write about this. I'll simply link to Paul's site for you to view the pix I speak of. I'm sure he'll appreciate the one or two folks that jump there from here.

Paul Thurrott's WinHEC 2004 Longhorn Prototypes Gallery:

First, let me restate that I'm a big fan of Apple's technology. OS X has been my mainstay OS since 10.0. I also use WinXP Pro regularly, but do not give it near the time and dedication I give OS X. Why? OS X is a different animal that is far easier on the eyes, more logical and less complicated on so many fronts. For instance, Finder vs. Explorer. Finder is simple in comparison - IMHO. Explorer is bogged down by unnecessary extras, icons that all look alike, same size, etc.

Next and last on the contrast list is Start button/menu vs. Dock. I find that I like the dock far more as something that provides quick access to the apps I need/want rather than a start menu that quickly becomes convoluted with identical icons only differentiated by the name - folders specifically, which is the typical way new installs are introduced. With exception to Microsoft Office and a few others. This also extends to the Finder vs. Explorer argument - if I can't find an app I want in the dock, I go to a new Finder window, click on the A (Applications) icon on the left and am thrust into the Applications folder, not "Program Files" where every application is distinctly marked unless placed in a standard blue OS X folder. Windows' Start/Explorer are far less intuitive in the same respect. I HATE trying to find what I want based on the NAME of the item when ever blooming folder is identical in the start menu. Not as efficient, IMO.

OS X is, by contrast, heavier on the visual identification queues that indicate the use or property of an app or a folder via its icon.

Now back to Longhorn. Once you've had a look-see at the pix from the link I provided, I wonder what your first impressions are. Let me give you mine.

1) The windows are, of course, uhh, new-looking. New is good in my book unless it breaks all rules and is counter-intuitive. I'll touch on this in a few.

2) The icons are interesting although not breakthroughs in "lickableness" as are OS X's icons.

3) Auxiliary displays, notebook closed with display, extremely cool. Chalk one up to the billions of R&D dollars in Redmond. Nice work, guys.

4) Contacts & Communication History. Good concept, likely very useful to the business and power-user community. Heck, I might even find it interesting. But just my impression is that it may become an information overload aspect of the system. But it looks to have promise.

Delving deeper, I would like to point out that the Contacts shot is not at all unlike Apple's Address Book intro'd with OS X. Of course there are details that are different - a list with pix of each contact rather than a text list. That's nice. But it does look to borrow from the idea that Address Book brought to the table. And no doubt that Microsoft has borrowed from Apple. And that's not a bad thing as many in the Mac community insist. It is a compliment to Apple.

Sync Manager... iSync. Sync Manger simply shows you more detail, but the concept looks to be from the same camp. No complaints of copying, it's something that was bound to happen one way or the other.

5) Mobility Center. Okay, by this point has ANYBODY noticed in ANY of the screenshots the unbelievable space Microsoft decided to take up in the top-half of the window? There is WAY too much dead space, aka, waste of screen real-estate. There's the "Learn about" text that is huge but opaque that takes up serious room in the upper half of the window. Please, somebody tell my why this is the case? Fisher-Price is what many have called XP's interface, what will they call this, the Montana Sky interface?

This angst isn't all coming from Paul's screenshots, please understand, I've seen enough Window shots of Longhorn to wonder what on earth Bill, et al., are up to. I don't want to see GOBS of space in the header of a window. Finder gives lots of options in OS X - I can click the far upper right oblong button and voi la, the toolbar is gone. Simple window, icons. This stuff in Longhorn, while interesting, doesn't impress me so far. But I'm not dismissing it yet. It is only half-baked so far, plenty of time to iron out the details.

6) Pen Optimized Skin ... mmm pen-based computing. Tablets. Mmm. Me like. Wish I had the money for one, but I don't. I'd love to see Apple intro a tablet-like Mac. 'Nuff said. Good idea, MS.

7) Power Management now with Fly Out! Actually, this is cool. I'm all for more information where it counts, and battery/power-management information is typically too shallow and always leaving me wanting more info. Huh? You say. Well, I'm a detail buff when it comes to the weather, power information, system information and the like. If I am looking for the model of HD in my PowerBook, the system info button better give it to me. If I want to know more than just how many minutes are left in my battery with present settings, that's what I want. Give me something additional like - if you turn your brightness down to X you will see an increase of 30 minutes in your battery life. Don't know if this is what Longhorn will do, but more info is always better in this respect. Give me the option, however, to turn it on or off.

8) Phone integration. This is the last of the stuff that Paul shows in this iteration. I'm not sure I'm into the phone on PC thing yet. Well, I do like the voice and video capabilities Apple gave us with iChat. They are first-class for non biz stuff. For Biz you need to dump a whole lot more money on the table, have internal hardware for the camera, etc. But with video cards getting more powerful by the month, that may become a non-issue as well.

So if I *could* do phone on my PC, would I? I don't know. I'm not sold on the whole VoIP thing yet. It all requires processor cycles that I would guess are somewhat intensive. So for my already busy desktop, that may not be a great thing.

Bottom line

Longhorn is a ways off, but gee, what potential it has. Sure, lots of us love to jump on Microsoft for its monopolistic practices, juggernaut ways, but they do have the decisive lead ... with a bullet. My fav OS X isn't coming close to grabbing a larger share of the desktop pie, and to be honest, neither is Linux. Linux is SO not ready for average users is isn't even funny. But then, I've only played up to Mandrake 9.2 and Lindows 4.5. Still, a ways to go. Too many things require a degree in Geekology to make things work. Sorry guys, keep trying.

I sure wish Apple was plowing down the competition and more of the market was taking notice. OS X has an enormous amount to offer - the one MAJOR exception (games are an exception, but there are alternatives like Xbox, G3 and PS2) is financial software.

That is a sticky point for me, but off topic with this post. Suffice it to say, Quicken (Win) and MS Money are way ahead of the Mac competition - not saying the 3rd party Mac software isn't good, because some are, but Q & M on Windows just blow away the Mac competition clean and dry. Hands down.

Longhorn will bring many new technologies to the table. Gonna be tough to shell out gobs of cash (maybe) for new systems capable of running it. Developers are getting a jump now, and need that jump as they have to rewrite a lot of code to make the new apps work, so I've read.

Note to Microsoft: trim down the over-bearing size of the upper portion of Explorer windows, please. The bloat is bad. And, if you're feeling especially friendly, send me one of those 23 or 30" HP prototypes running Longhorn. That'd be fun. Probably won't replace my 17" PowerBook I have for work, but it'll be a fun distraction for a while.