SiliconFilter

Sorry Microsoft, But My Desktop Isn’t a Tablet

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Last week, Microsoft launched the consumer preview version of Windows 8 to the public. As I was at the Mobile World Congress, I didn't get to install it until the weekend, but I've now been able to put it through its paces for the last few days and been using it as my main operating system for most of that time. Its split personality is driving me absolutely bonkers, however, and I'm not sure I'll extend this experiment much longer.

Windows 8 is a beautiful tablet operating system, but on a desktop – and especially with a multi-screen setup – it just constantly gets in your way. Thankfully, this is just a preview version and Microsoft still has a few months to iron out the kinks, but unless it makes some radical changes, I'm not sure I'll be able to recommend Windows 8 anytime soon. Microsoft says Windows 8 will offer the best of both worlds and in a way it does. It's just that these two worlds aren't meant to be squished into one single operating system.

The Split Personality of Windows 8

At least in this preview, Microsoft makes no attempt to hide the split personality of its new operating system. There's the metro interface, which you can't avoid, as it also now doubles as the new start menu, and then there is the traditional desktop, which can be best described as Windows 7.5. The two user interfaces have nothing in common with each other and try as you want, you can't just use Windows 8 like a Windows 7.5 because the tablet interface constantly intervenes. To launch applications from the traditional desktop, for example, you always have to go back to the Metro-style start menu, which features a great design for tablets, but makes utterly no sense when you use a mouse and keyboard.

Oh, and what about those two different versions of Internet Explorer? There's the Metro version, which doesn't support Flash and has a very stripped-down interface – and then there's the regular browser that runs in the desktop. How do you explain that to a mainstream user?

Got Two Screens? Windows 8 Wasn't Made for You

Worst of all, when you use a dual-screen setup right now, the second screen always shows the Windows 7.5 desktop and you can't even run two metro apps side-by-side on the two screens. To make matter worse, Windows 8 right now assumes that your primary screen is always the one with the task bar on it, so you can't even start any apps on the other screen while you are in Metro mode (unless you opt to show the same task bar on both screens, which also makes no sense whatsoever).

Great Tablet UI – Pointless on the Desktop

Microsoft has decided to privilege the tablet use case over the traditional desktop and productivity one. At times, this leads to non-sensical decisions like a login screen you have to drag up to get to the password prompt (okay – you can just hit enter twice, too, I think – but it's not like you will accidentally start your desktop or laptop in your pocket).

And what about trying to put your PC to sleep or turn it off? In Windows 8 right now, you have to first log out as a user, then pretend you want to log in again and the hunt for the shutdown button, which is hidden under your user icon (or you can try to bring up the "charm" that appears when you hit the right side of the screen with your mouse – but that's a bit hard  when your main screen is on the left side and your mouse just moves over to the right screen).

Maybe there is an alternative universe out there where this makes sense.

Then, of course, there is also the question of why you would want to run these full-screen apps on your desktop in the first place. Apple pushed the same concept with its full-screen mode and just like Microsoft, it totally forgot about dual-screen users. I don't think I've ever run an OS X app in full-screen mode, as it just makes switching between apps too much of a hassle.

There's Still Some Time to Fix This…

Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to polish the edges of Windows 8 to the point where this disjointed experience becomes somewhat less disorienting and maybe even feel natural. I admit, I doubt it. And that's a shame. Microsoft made some really smart decisions with the Metro interface (including, for example, the ability to run two applications side-by-side). My desktop, however, isn't a tablet and instead of making things easier for me, Windows 8 just constantly gets in the way. Windows 7 does its best to get out of my way – Windows 8 instead throws some giant tiles onto my screen.



2:59 pm


Hands-On With Ubuntu for Android

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A few days ago, Ubuntu announced its plans to marry its full desktop operating system with the Android mobile operating system. Ubuntu, of course, is mostly known for its Linux distribution, but the company has recently also branched out into consumer electronics with its Ubuntu for TV initiative. Today, we got a chance to spend some hands-on time with the first prototypes of Ubuntu for Android. While it's still obvious that this is a prototype, it's hard not to be positively surprised by the current state of the project.

Here is how it works in practice – and this is a bit similar to the experience with a Motorola Atrix: when you use your phone on the road, it's a regular Android phone. For the most part, you wouldn't even know that it is running Ubuntu as well. When you plug it into its base station however, it becomes a full-blown desktop system that you control with a mouse and keyboard. It even runs Ubuntu TV as well.

A Need for More Speed

The prototypes Ubuntu is using to demonstrate the operating system aren't among the fastest. It takes a little bit before applications like Chrome start up, for example. Ubuntu is quite aware of this, of course, and expects that the first phones with the operating systems will use faster, multi-core processors with more RAM than its current prototypes.

Once your applications are running, though, the desktop feels sufficiently speedy. Maybe the coolest feature of the desktop, though, as that you still have access to the full Android OS, too. You can still make calls, use Google Maps or any other app that runs on the phone. This isn't some emulator either. All the apps still run natively.

Ubuntu hasn't announced any partners yet that will manufacture the phone, but an Ubuntu representative told me that a number of top-tier manufacturers have already approach the company since it first announced this project a few days ago.

More Than a Gimmick

Going into the demo, I couldn't help but think that this was mostly going to be a gimmick, but after seeing the product in action, it does feel like the Ubunut team is on the right track. Chances are, your phone will never be as fast as that multi-core (but also power-hungry) desktop under your desk, but most users never really tap into this power anyway.

Ubuntu is aiming this feature at high-end users for now, but one could also imagine this as a smart solution for developing countries where phones are often peoples' only way of getting online.



7:55 am


Hands-On With Apple’s Mountain Lion: Don’t Like Change? You’ll Love this Update

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While Microsoft is working on its most significant operating system update in recent memory, Apple just released the first developer preview of Mountain Lion, the next update to OS X. Mountain Lion is scheduled for a public release in the summer. As with Apple's Leopard to Snow Leopard update, the company is clearly indicating that this is a minor update – and indeed, after spending a few days with Mountain Lion as my main operating system now, I still sometimes forget that I'm not using Lion.

The New Stuff in Mountain Lion: More About Apps than the Operating System

About This Mac

Unless you are deeply embedded in the Apple lifestyle and use an AppleTV, for example, or use Apple's default email app, chances are you won't notice too much new in Mountain Lion.

Sure, the Messages app is cool and useful – but that's really just an app that you could run on Snow Leopard as well (assuming Apple continues to support it after the general release of Mountain Lion). Indeed, most of the updates like the new Reminders and Notes apps are more about these new apps than the operating system.

Personally, I don't really care for the deeper Twitter integration, a new, more Chrome-like version of Safari or having access to Game Center in Mountain Lion. I never felt like I needed an easier way to share anything on Twitter and I don't play games on my Mac.

The interesting new features to me are support for AirPlay in OS X, as it yes another move by Apple to get the Mac closer to the living room (and maybe also a precursor to the iTV) and Gatekeeper, the new security feature in OS X that is meant to protect you from malware. If you own an AppleTV, AirPlay alone is likely with the upgrade.

The other update that you will likely use quite regularly is the Notifications bar. That, indeed, is a very iOS-like feature, but one that actually feels completely at home on the desktop, too (unlike the Launchpad Apple introduced with Lion). Only Apple's own apps currently make use of it, but once more developers integrate it into their applications, chances are you will use it all the time and wonder how you ever worked without it.

Mountain Lion Isn't Going to Turn Your Mac into an iPad

If you are worried about the "iOSification" of the Mac, Mountain Lion isn't the update to worry about. The update really isn't about convergence as it is about convenience. The deeper iCloud integration makes keeping you address books, notes and files in sync between your different devices easier, the rather useless iOS-like Launchpad app is still there, but you don't have to use it (I know I never do).

Nothing in Mountain Lion – except for maybe Gatekeeper if you set it to its most restrictive setting – takes anything away from what you can currently do in Lion.

Mountain Lion and Windows 8: Two Very Different Updates

Even though Apple obviously announced Mountain Lion just ahead of Microsoft's unveiling of the public beta of Windows 8, these are two completely different updates. With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to reinvent its operating system to a degree that is closer to going from Mac OS 9 to OS X. While Microsoft is baking its tablet OS into its desktop OS (and we still have to see how successful it will be in doing this), Apple is just making the interplay between the desktop and mobile more convenient.



11:02 am


The New Windows 8 UI: Trying to be Too Many Things to Too Many Devices?

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Microsoft showed off the first demos of Windows 8 at the D9 conference and on its blog today. In its current form, it’s basically a blown-up version of the Metro user interface that also graces Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. That’s not a bad thing at all, actually. With its live tiles, the Metro UI provides users with one of the most information-dense “desktops” around without giving up aesthetics for clutter.
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4:31 am