Monday, 22 February 2010

I'm a Mac and Windows 7 was...sort idea...

Microsoft's Windows Vista was undeniably a massive failure and fundamentally rocked the foundation on which my house is built. For the past 3 years I have been paralysed. Not physically, but technologically as far as Microsoft technologies are concerned. Having installed Windows 7 this past weekend, I am asking the question - how does Windows 7 change me, and was it really my idea as Microsoft would have me believe?

For 12+ years I have been a Microsoft software developer. To this day, The Hatchery remains a Microsoft Registered Partner and Empower Programme Subscriber. In fact, our incredibly powerful content management and e-commerce engine (Cloudbase™) is built using Visual Studio on the .NET 3.5 framework. So, it is fair to say that I am not anti-Microsoft, but in the past 3 years I have spent more money on Apple hardware and software than I have on any other technology company's products. For a breakdown of my technology spend over the past 3 years please see the Appendix at the end of this blog post.

So how did this keen Microsoft developer turn sweet on Apple and sour on Microsoft?

Quite simple: Windows Vista and the iPhone.

In masterful strokes of genius, Steve Jobs and the team at Apple have identified why their company has struggled for years against Microsoft (the Goliath), and developed technologies that couldn't solve their competitive problems any better than they do.

At the same time, Microsoft has continued to try and be everything to everyone in a world where consumers would prefer devices and software that are built for a particular job and which do that job brilliantly; that are designed, not just engineered; and that make life simpler and more enjoyable.

In my opinion, the iPod was really the turning point for Apple. It put Apple technologies in the hands of millions. With consumers accustomed to using iTunes and Apple software and hardware, the iMac and Mac OS X began their rise to prominence in the home. Then the iPhone smashed onto the scene and put Apple technology in our hands, pockets or at least very nearby for 24 hours a day. With the iPhone, Apple dangled a carrot and many developers scrambled to learn Cocoa and Xcode - the language and environment with which one can build all Mac applications. Now, with Apple stores around the world attracting millions of visitors annually, and innovation such as the iPod, iPhone and the iPad relentlessly making our lives easier and more enjoyable, Apple is undoubtedly a major player in the league of tech giants and developers are actively building software for Mac OS X and Apple's mobile equivalents.

...and how did Microsoft sour our relationship with Windows Vista?

The product was touted as revolutionary and the tech community was treated to functionality promises that dazzled. However, the reality was far from what we were encouraged to dream would be possible with this operating system.

I started this blog post talking about my technology paralysis, and Windows Vista was the cause. For 3 years I have worked on the edge of my seat, expecting Vista to crash at any moment into a blue screen of death and my work to be irreparably lost to the Windows binary monster. It has happened on multiple occasions and cost me a bundle in irrecoverable time and frustration.

Not only was Windows Vista one of the worst operating systems that Microsoft has ever released to market, but the company made further mistakes when it released the product. Some of these mistakes included: a crazy pricing model with a myriad of operating system versions that confused even the tech community, pricing 4+ times the cost of Mac's OS X Leopard, arrogance in their denials that the product had fundamental problems, and the delivery of a product that was oversold and which under-delivered.

So when Microsoft announced that Windows 7 would be released in October last year, I really couldn't have cared. The announcement didn't make me hunt down keynote speeches for more info or make plans to queue for my copy. I just ignored the news. Microsoft's Vista had made me indifferent and paralysed my interest in Redmond's products - perhaps even making an Apostle out of me for the company's competitor in Cupertino.

The problem is that I need Microsoft Windows to build websites on our technology foundation, so when Vista crashed on me on Friday I resolved to take Windows 7 for a spin as my thinking was that anything must surely be better than Vista.

Boy am I pleased that I did. Despite taking 4 hours to upgrade my Vista installation, the first brush of my mouse cursor over the Windows 7 taskbar put a smile on my face and much was forgiven. Windows 7 doesn't look that different to Windows Vista but it feels more solid. User Account Control is more robust and appropriately implemented and the attention to detail that the development team paid to this latest release is obvious. Not only does the system function better but it is quicker and uses fewer system resources to do the job. Brilliant!

So how has this changed me?

Many would brand me as an Apple Fan-boy nowadays and there is no doubt that if someone asked me what machine I would recommend they purchase, a Mac / iMac / Macbook would remain my first response in spite of Windows 7, and irrespective of the initial cost. So I am asking myself the question, am I a Mac or a PC and was Windows 7 really my idea?

After much thought, I have determined that I am a Mac. I am not yet a Mac through-and-through as I still wear my PC tie under my uber-cool and relaxed sweatshirt in the form of Windows 7 running inside VMware, but nevertheless, Mac OS X runs in my veins and the iPhone rings in my ears. As great as Windows 7 is in comparison to Vista, it is still no Mac OS X, but to it's credit, it is feeling more and more like OS X to use. So...was Windows 7 my idea?...

I guess to some extent it was. By expressing my favouritism for Apple and Mac OS X along with millions of others around the world, Microsoft has heard the pitter patter of our feet from their door to Apple's and has suddenly sat up and taken note of the features that make Mac OS X so strong. I can only hope that they continue to fight Apple for market share so that both companies remain honest, but I also hope they find the innovation and skills to catch up and start leading the world of technology again, rather than watching Steve Jobs' back as he disappears into the horizon that is the future of computing.

Appendix A (My Technology Spend over the Past 3 Years)

My headline technology spend (approximations) over the past 3 years:

  1. February 2007: Hewlett Packard Pavilion dv9299ea Laptop running Windows Vista - £1,900
  2. 19 June 2007: Queued for the Apple iPhone at Regent Street Store - £269
  3. October 2007: Macbook Pro and Accessories - £2,100
  4. 11 July 2008: Queued for the Apple iPhone 3G - £99
  5. April 2008: Microsoft Empower Subscroption - £260
  6. April 2008: Mac Pro - £1,800
  7. April 2008: Apple 23" Cinema Display, Time Capsule and VMware Fusion - £930
  8. April 2008: iWork Family Pack 2008 - £59
  9. March 2008: Enrolled in the iPhone Development Program - £59
  10. March 2009: Re-enrolled in the iPhone Development Program - £59
  11. April 2009: Re-subscribed to the Microsoft Empower Programme - £260
  12. July 2009: Repairs to HP Laptop (what a waste of time and money this laptop and HP has proven to be) - £267

These figures exclude additional RAM purchases for my Mac's, a Samsung and Epson printer and a few other smaller technology items as well as gifts such as an Apple Magic Mouse that I received this past year for Christmas. It also excludes any carrier payments to Apple for my iPhone contract with O2.

I have also purchased or encouraged family members to buy the following technology in this time (all of which were previously Windows users):

  1. iPhone 3GS (my wife): £149.99
  2. iMac 20" (my folks): approximately £900 (purchased in South Africa)
  3. iMax 20" (my folks-in-law): approximately £900 (purchased in South Africa)
  4. Macbook Pro (my folks): £900

So, in summary my calculations show:

  1. Microsoft: £520 plus the license fee that formed part of the HP laptop purchase (so let's be generous and say that that was £300) = £820
  2. Apple: £5,375 plus approximately £3,000 spent by family members on Apple technology.

Appendix B (What else has changed?)

The fall of Microsoft in my recommendation standings is not an isolated incident in my world. Perhaps an even bigger fall has been Hewlett Packard as I have vowed never to purchase another HP product in my lifetime. Prior to purchasing the HP Pavilion dv9299ea laptop (mentioned above), all my printers and many other bits and pieces were HP products, but since that purchase I have got rid of it all. Not only should that laptop model have been recalled by Hewlett Packard (as they did similar products) given it's faulty graphics card that on two occasions crashed it's motherboard, but the support I received from the company was absolutely abysmal. If I am going to spend £19,00 on a laptop with that spec then I expect much more from the manufacturer. I am not the only one complaining about the same or similar problems and so I am not sure HP will ever redeem itself in my eyes. Only time will tell...

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