I keep seeing these Microsoft ads trumpeting “One Experience” for all your computing needs, with Windows 8 on tablet, laptop, and desktop, and the similar-feeling Windows Phone on your phone. This is their big theory, their almighty goal going forward.
It’s also why their product isn’t selling like they want it to. It’s a bad theory.
Let’s move to a different machine space for a moment… vehicles. I own a Pontiac Vibe, one of the last made before Pontiac closed down. It’s a hatchback, reasonably fuel efficient, big enough to haul computers with a hatch large enough for a good-sized laser printer in a box. Right now it has a substantial amount of inventory in it, parts that I might need when fixing computers.
I also own a Yamaha TW-200 motorcycle. It’s amazing fun to ride, goes anywhere, fits the most screwed-up parking space and gets 70 MPG. Then there’s my Ford F-150 pickup. It has 4 wheel drive, goes almost anywhere, is comfortable and hauls a lot of stuff.
All three vehicles will haul my butt to work. The bike is by far the most fun, but it’s only practical to ride it to work on short to moderate length trips (too small for the Interstate), and then only when I don’t have to haul more stuff than will fit in a backpack. The Vibe is my “default” work vehicle, but on icy roads or on gravel it’s a bit of a hockey puck; the low-rolling-resistance tires don’t stick worth a darn to any surface other than clean dry pavement. When the roads are snow covered or icy, the only choice is the F-150. It’s also the only choice when I go out to buy furniture or home improvement materials (lumber, plywood, sheetrock, etc.).
My point is, they don’t have the same experience. The truck is sort of like the car, but the motorcycle, now, that is a totally different experience. Handlebars, hand throttle, hand clutch, foot shifter, separate front and rear brake, the former at my right hand and the latter at my right foot. But that’s just the basics you need to get it rolling; riding a motorcycle is much different than driving a car. You lean into corners, so the G forces are distributed differently. There’s no cage of glass and steel around you… you’re in the world, not separated from it. In plainer words, it feels different.
I think this analogy applies perfectly to the Windows 8 situation. Microsoft saw the rise of the tablet, a lightweight mobile device that’s fun to use but more limited, and decided that desktop and laptop computers ought to work the same way. A tablet has a user interface designed for fingers, rather than one designed for keyboard and mouse. It feels different.
A big part of Microsoft’s theory is that we are too stupid to work technology unless the user interface is the same everywhere. I consider myself reasonably proficient both at driving a car and riding a motorcycle, and they have very different user interfaces. Many people proficiently do both. It’s not that hard.
So what Microsoft did is like putting handlebars, a hand throttle, separate brakes, hand clutch and foot shifter in a car or pickup. It makes absolutely no sense. Oh, sure, there would be a few people who climbed into that pickup truck with a set of handlebars installed and say “Cool, this is what I’ve always wanted!” But it would be a flop in the marketplace.
The key difference here is that, for the last two decades, almost all “small computer” work has been done on computers running a Microsoft operating system. So this isn’t like Ford putting handlebars on a truck… it’s more like if almost all auto makers changed to handlebars overnight, and you had to buy from lesser-known brands with limited parts and service availability to get a steering wheel.
If that happened, though, it would only be a matter of time before those lesser-known brands gained market share substantially. Will we see that in the computer industry? I’d like to hope so.