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Readers on Windows 8 and Microsoft's Quest for Cool

Yes, we still do this. People still e-mail your editor, and he still runs their e-mails in newsletter entries and blog posts. Oh, sure, folks can post comments directly on the blog site (which is great) or Tweet with abandon (if they must), but old-school e-mail and traditional reader feedback live on.

We start this edition with thoughts on Windows 8, which we at RPCU think looks great for tablets but not so appropriate for PCs. To our great surprise, several readers wrote to...agree! Writes Glen:

"I'm with you! I certainly don't want to have to bathe my laptop screen several times a day to get the food particles and fingerprints off. I stayed with XP until last year when I bought a new laptop with [Windows] 7 64 installed by Toshiba. I still have to deal with XP on my other two machines that are too old for W7, but that's not often. I doubt that I'll even consider W8; I'll wait for W9 or whatever. I don't need to be the first tester for MS!"

Glen, we're still on XP here at RCPU, but it does what we need it to do. It might for a while to come. And the whole idea of touchscreen computing on a non-mobile device (specifically on a PC) is, well, just kind of weird.

Michael chimes in:

"You are on point. Let us digest Win 7 on the PC while Microsoft captures tablet and phone market share with Windows 8. This would be a great strategic move without blurring the parameters of PC computing."

Yes, blurring the parameters -- that seems to be what Microsoft is doing, and while we kind of get the idea behind that, the execution is poor thus far. Plus, we're not sure we want our parameters blurred. Let tablets be tablets and PCs be PCs. And we do think that Windows 8 has chance to capture a chunk of the tablet market.

And then there's Thomas, who wraps up this whole issue with such gusto that we don't really feel the need to add a comment to what he has to say:

"To those who think the same interface will work with both mouse-keyboard and finger tips: Look at your fingers. Now look at your mouse pointer. THEY AREN'T THE SAME. And a user interface designed for one will NOT work well with the other. (Try doing an 'expand' with your mouse, or clicking a checkbox [or inserting a cursor between two letters] with your finger). 

"Furthermore, the last thing I want on my PC is a 'desktop' that I have to use like the one on my Windows Phone -- I almost never even look at my XP desktop -- not to mention the god-awful Windows Phone 7 emphasis on things like requiring on-line syncing to get anything done. 

"I want a PC OS able to run multiple large apps simultaneously, using a mouse and full-size keyboard, optimized for use with multiple multi-terabyte HDs, a graphics card with several hundred processors and a GB or so of RAM on-board, dual or triple 10-bit-per-color monitors, etc. -- not something that a typical iPad-style tablet will have. And I want the user interface to support that, too. Conversely, I need my tablet OS to be optimized for that smaller single-monitor, smaller-SSD, longer-battery-life hardware, and with a user interface to match -- e.g., with touchscreen support. This one-OS-fits-all idea, like all those previous 'write once, run everywhere' marketing-gimmick ideas, just never works. Hope someone bursts this Microsoft bubble before it gets foisted on us users and pops in our faces."

Of course, we're going to add to this comment, anyway, but only by saying that we're right with you, Thomas. You said in a couple hundred words what we tried to say in closer to 1,000. Well done.

Also recently, we explored the notion of Microsoft becoming cool, which we believe to be a possibility if Redmond plays its underdog cards correctly. Richard writes to remind us that if Microsoft does manage to achieve coolness, it won't be for the first time:

"In the fuzzy rush of technology chasing itself pell mell to nobody knows where, it is sometimes hard to dredge up those old memories from the world before the World Wide Web changed everything. There was a time, way back there sometime around 1980 or thereabouts, when Microsoft WAS cool, the little scrappy company taking on the kings of computing technology and winning. Remember DOS? That little company invented it out of a purchased piece of code and delivered a product to the giant of the computing world, upstaging Digital Research (where is CPM when you really need it?) and leapfrogging Apple and Radio Shack and Osborne Computer and, well, everybody. And what is Windows, anyway? As I recall, it was a shot across the bow of the IBM supertanker when the Big Blue folks wanted to forge ahead on their own with (we strain to remember it) a new operating system for their personal computer. So where is OS-2 now?

"Yeah, those were the good old days before Microsoft almost missed the boat completely on the World Wide Web, and then crashed the party by actually giving away Internet Explorer in order to compete with that other darling of a company who basically stole the Web browser idea from the University of Chicago and had the temerity to sell Web browsers to unsuspecting corporate users. Speaking of giving away product, wasn't it Apple that essentially gave away computers to schools across the country, knowing that if they got the kids they would have the adults?

"Way back there, AOL was king of the connected world (well, at least after they purchased Compuserve) and made money by -- get this -- selling ad space on their network that barely let users out of the box to visit the Web. So how did Google come up with that idea to finance their search portal, anyway?

"Is Apple cool today because they were so good, or because Microsoft kept them afloat with a massive infusion of cash when they were about to go belly-up? Is Google cool today because they are straining mightily to convince us all the world really does belong in the cloud, or is that just a reflection of their revenue stream? I wonder."

Richard, we like this comment a lot for a lot of reasons. First of all, we're history buffs here at RCPU. Beyond that, though, you bring up a lot of good points about who should and shouldn't be cool. There's only one problem, though: Cool makes no sense. It never has. It's easy to identify but very difficult to define. And it often defies rational thinking. Unfortunately, it matters in the consumer world.

Remember how the Fonz from "Happy Days" was cool in the '70s? A '50s do-gooder in a leather jacket with over-coiffed hair (played by a guy who was about 60 at the time, or so it now seems) was cool during the "me decade," when experimentation and rebellion were the hallmarks of the post-Vietnam era. How on earth did that happen? Was there some sort of reverse irony there? It makes no sense at all. The Fonz and David Bowie were cool during the same decade, maybe even among some of the same people. Weird.

Anyway, we digress, but the point is this: Cool makes no sense. Apple is a big, powerful corporation with a not-so-great record for being "green" (or so we've heard) and a CEO who might be a genius but is also, we think, a bit of a megalomaniac. It's kind of like GE with a neat logo. Yet, among the hipsters and the arbiters of tech taste, Apple is cool.

Then there's Microsoft, which, as you mentioned, toppled the power structure of computing in the '80s and steamrolled everybody in its path. That would make a great character in a video game (probably -- we don't play video games), but Microsoft is roundly uncool. Go figure. And, no, we haven't forgotten that Microsoft saved Apple's bacon (now we're getting hungry) back in the '90s. We at RCPU are still fans of Pirates of Silicon Valley (yet another reason why we're uncool, too).

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Posted by Lee Pender on June 08, 2011 at 11:57 AM