Oct
01
2006

MS vs Apple

Microsoft are the devil in corporate form. They are a big, horrible, nasty company that is trying to make our lives as hard as possible, who want us to be forced into their slow, poorly built, proprietary technologies and products

It’s easy to blame the big guy isn’t it. I mean it goes without saying that the bigger the company, the more interested they are in shafting you for everything you’ve got, right? It’s almost like one of those passed down unwritten rules that no one even considers to challenge

I for one don’t think MS really falls under this stigma, in fact, I for one think MS is actually a rather impressive company. As proof of this about a year ago I listened to a talk by an MS intern (year placement) who had been working for them for 2 months. He was full of nothing but praise for them. On the basis of his talk I was actually fired up enough about the company to apply to work there. As it happens I stopped the process half way because I had found a job that better suited my needs, but had that other opportunity not come up I would have worked at MS without hesitation.

Now let’s make no mistake here, I have been working on MS kit since back in the days of command line DOS and trust me, I have had my fair share of cursing it in irate fits of rage. Brought on by all manors of strange bugs (normally when the Windows 95 sysdm.cpl file blowing up on me or explorer under XP during some huge network filecopy). Despite my hate for MS on many occasions I am still left sitting here wondering why people hate them so much.

I mean, lets look at what they actually do, both right and wrong for a moment. Take the new version of Office for example:

• The new ribbon interface is a stunningly innovative way to deal with the vast plethora of features Office has accumulated these days in a way which is both simple and elegant to use.

• They are moving to an open XML document format which allows other companies to build their own Office applications that are fully compatible (not the glorified hacks OO uses).

• They are building in huge levels of (optional) DRM just as businesses have asked for.

• They are trying as hard as they can to include PDF support if Adobe will let them.

But this is no real surprise is it? Office has always been one of the great examples of what something looks like when it’s right. Even the historically anti-MS Mac conferences uttered a fairly startling applaud to the news that Office was going to be released for the Mac.

Let’s move away from Office then, how about something a bit more hardcore… Anyone who has tried to dev in VB or C# will always sing praises Visual studio as one of the most powerful IDE’s around.

How about Windows Media Player. Now knock this as you may, but find me a media player that has the same level of features and such a useful and powerful library. iTunes may be all silver, Winamp may be small, real player is full of ad-ware… but at the end of the day, looks and size are nothing without the functionality to make people look at them

Perhaps we should move away from software. I would talk about their hardware, but there isn’t much to say there, it’s second to none. Perhaps we should go onto attitude. Have you looked at the vast number of low level server tools they give away for free?

I had a quick wander on their site the other day to see how much out there really was. I was quite stunned. I follow quite a lot of what they do and even I hadn’t realised there was that much out on the market.

Tools such as SQL server express. They know one of their main markets is businesses who will (quite rightly) have to pay for the full server version, but they also provide for the cheap consumer who just wants to try things out and build small personal applications. They even provide the likes of visual C# express for free and through their asp.net wing, web matrix. Need a fresh install of another OS? How about Virtual PC 2004? The list just goes on and on.

Now if their cut down enterprise kit/home user stuff is impressive what do you think their real enterprise kit is like? I doubt many of you get to play with a copy of Server 2003 or SQL Server 2005. I use both products (plus a whole heap of other stuff like source safe, Visual studio, Enterprise manager) every day. Crash? What’s that? I haven’t seen any of those products crash (ever) under anything but limit testing where I am trying as hard as I can to crash them (and trust me, I can crash anything). So all in all their stuff for businesses is rock solid. I actually can’t see any serious business moving away from them, ever.

Of course the home user market is an all together different place to deal with and has always required a different approach. So what does MS do for the home user then? Well for one thing (and this is a big one) they let you use almost any hardware you want. Well, that’s all very well, but for most people they get the manufacturer to pick the hardware. Ok then, how does this grab you. You can install an application first made to work on Windows 3.1 or under DOS 6. Well, you might ask do you actually want to do that. I mean who wants to run some bit of software that you bought back in the days when the internet was new? You want the newest most up-to-date software don’t you? I for one want to use software I already know works that I have already bought and I know will work with all the other applications I run. So under Windows you just run it. Simple as that. Ok so when Vista comes out we will have to drop a few 16 bit apps, but come one, we have to let go sometime.

The biggest thing that I think MS does for the home user market is functionality. They give people a fair bit of power and the options to do with it what they want. Last I looked people don’t want to be held back. They key to the way they delivered this functionality was that they keep it just under the surface. It’s there and people can dip into it if they want, yet on top is a fairly simple to use interface (and it’s only getting simpler). Now you could say this is the method that Apples uses with its Mac, and you would be right, but like with most things the key is the balance. You don’t want to sacrifice simplicity for functionality and vice versa. Myself I think Apple went a bit too far down the simplicity route. You have to do what Apple thinks you want to do, or you have to open up a shell prompt. With windows I almost never need to delve into a command window these days, I just use the advanced button in the settings box…

Now as someone who uses both a PC and a Mac I feel the need to do a few comparisons. Not least because in the current computing climate Apple is seen as the great savour coming to put right what MS made wrong.

Well, a quick glance at the news tells me Apple is going money grabbing. They are busy suing everyone under the sun who uses the word “pod”. They have claimed that people are going to be confused and are going to think the service comes from Apple. Well, lest I see everything that comes from Apple is pretty black and white (if you will excuse the pun). I can’t see many of the names being taken to court being confused with Apple service. If you ask me these sounds very much like an old MS trick.

So while Apple is for some unknown reason clamping down, MS appears to be opening up. I mentioned a while ago that Office was moving to XML formats. This will allow competitors to use the Office formats without any incompatibilities. Now if that’s not opening up to competition I don’t know what is.

In fact, while Apple seems to be closing down a lot of it’s technologies (they’re kernel springs to mind) MS is doing more for developers.

As a quick mention on copying, don’t think for a moment that Apple only has original ideas. Bother Apple and MS owe a lot of what they have to Xerox from the early days. If you look at the way the market is moving these days its’ no surprise they have a lot of similar features. None of the companies desktop OS’s have anything particularly original, it all comes from the corporate market and mainframes which have been around a bloody long time ago. Even in recent years things like Apple’s frontrow came after windows media centre

Now some of the Apple fanatically inclined will of course call bullshit and rant and rave about how wrong I am, how the evil corporation it trying to kill us all etc and how they steal everything from the mighty white. I will let you now I am writing this very post with MS Word on an Apple Powerbook…. Make of that what you will.

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