Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

I Heart Microsoft

Tech 3 min read

How things have changed.

I noticed the Microsoft Gadgets site the other day. I was surprised, though not at all at the existence of such a thing. I’ve not checked, but I’m assuming at this point that the site is genuine and reflects a feature we’re going to see in Windows Vista (née Longhorn).

There was a time when I’d get angry about things like that; actually genuinely worked up. It seems that time has passed. Why shouldn’t Windows have widgets too? Notwithstanding the Konfabulator backstory, it’s only the latest in a long line of examples of Microsoft and Apple copying ideas from each other.

Truth is, when I see Windows Desktop Search or the aforementioned Vista feature-set or XP’s “Luna” interface style or any of the rest of it, all I think is that I’m glad I already have that on my own computer here. I think that’s significant, because I really was one of these hardcore Mac fanboys who would get really personally annoyed whenever MS would so blatantly steal a feature or technology. I was irritated by the copying of the feature itself, but also by the effrontery of their tactics. It just mildly amuses me these days.

We all know what’s going to happen with this Microsoft Gadgets thing, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow:

  • The gadgets API has to be better than the Dashboard API (and Yahoo Widgets, and Google Sidebar), so they'll expose the ability to interoperate with other parts of the operating system, other applications and so forth.
  • This will open up huge security holes.
  • IE and/or Outlook etc will have the ability to auto-install new gadgets, from web pages and email messages.
  • Malicious gadgets will come into existence in huge numbers overnight.
  • Symantec et al will write security warnings about these gadgets, and update Norton etc to take care of them.
  • Microsoft will release a security update adding a warning upon auto-installation of new gadgets.
  • Future Windows service packs will patch the security holes in a piecemeal way.

Same old thing.

I also think it’s great that they’re talking about development etc on a blog, and really trying to get the user community involved. That’s always a positive thing, and can hopefully only help Microsoft’s record of doing the thinking for users, leaving gaping security holes, and implementing functionality in an illogical and/or unintuitive way. I’m not trying to damn with faint praise; I really do think it’s a great thing, and I’m happy to see it.

I just don’t have any real anger towards Microsoft anymore. I have this sense that there’s a general and growing dissatisfaction, but it’s not just the issue of how they do business. That’s a default, built-in annoyance which everyone is aware of. It’s software quality and innovation that’s getting to people; that, and the lock-in factor.

It’s a different world than it was a few years back. These days almost everything says whether or not it works on Mac OS X. More and more hardware is certified as Mac-compatible. Support phone-monkeys at broadband providers and ISPs are at least aware of the existence of OS X. Apple will be shipping Intel machines before long. I can walk into a newsagent in Glasgow and see 4 different Linux magazines with cover DVDs. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me the way things have shifted.

I’m not interested in Microsoft bashing or even much Windows criticism at this point, and that surprises the hell out of me, to be honest. I guess I just don’t really care anymore. I have an OS that I really like, without the sense of compromise I had way back in the days of classic Mac OS. I feel I’ve got the best end of the deal, and I still get the “elite club” thing we’ve all always cherished. I don’t want Apple to destroy Microsoft, nor are they going to. I don’t even want Apple to climb above say a 10-15% marketshare. I like the numbers for quite a few reasons, not least of which being that I know Apple would become just as much of a dick as Microsoft if they got big enough.

Apple is doing pretty well. Their hardware and software has never been more desirable. They’re leading in a number of prominent segments of the market. The sense of their ability to innovate and to lead both technically and in terms of the all-important style factor has probably never been stronger. Apple is a really strong brand, and I still feel part of a really close-knit community of smart and cool people. And I have no sense at all that Apple is the oft-quoted “underdog”. It just doesn’t feel that way. A minor player in terms of total desktop marketshare, no question. But a fucking cool club to be part of.

Microsoft has a lot of really, really smart people (the Mac team, case in point). They make stuff we all need (Mac Office, Virtual PC, Mac versions of WMP and Remote Desktop Connection and lots of other stuff). They have some really nice hardware, like that starck optical mouse and the Xbox and all sorts of other stuff. They’re not a cool company, I don’t have much respect for their operating system, and in my mind they’re more of a lumbering dinosaur than the ultra-modern tech saviour of humanity they once seemed to be. But that’s fine. Good luck to them.

I wouldn’t want to use Windows on my own machine, but at long last I think I’m finally really comfortable with it being around. I guess that if I was Microsoft, I’d find that pretty terrifying.