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Change is what should happen to other people

Posted: 07.15.13

Jon Peddie has observed that technologists write continuously about the death of the PC but more often than not we’re all using PCs as we write to mourn its passing. Most workers in the western world do their work on PCs and that includes cashiers as well as analysts and airplane pilots.

So far, the one thing everyone seems to have in common is a visceral hatred for Windows 8. If there was any doubt about the importance of the PC in people’s lives, the near hysterical reaction to a new PC operating system should put that idea to rest. People are reacting like someone snuck into their house and repainted their bedroom, which in a way, is just exactly what happened. Microsoft snuck in and redid the walls and carpet of the world’s digital office and people are complaining about everything from the color choices to the placement of the light switch.

Clearly, the PC is going to be around for a good long time. Microsoft devoted much of this year’s Build developer conference to addressing some rewriting of the operating system in response to user feedback. Not that they actually took the users’ advice but Microsoft did present an operating system with significant improvements and the response has been good.

Get this, the response has been good in spite of Microsoft not actually fixing the one thing people really hated – the lack of a Start Button that offers search and direct access to programs. Nope, the new, improved Start button takes people right back to the Modern interface that people claim to hate so much. Now, two things are going on. Number one, people aren’t paying attention and they stopped reading when they heard Microsoft is returning a Start button. Number two? People didn’t really care all that much about the Start button; people were outraged that Microsoft made such radical changes with so little regard for their customers’ desires.

So by, sort of, returning the Start button, Microsoft has acknowledged their users and has made a symbolic demonstration of the company’s willingness to listen to people. Also, Microsoft pledges to get significant upgrades that answer customer requests out much more regularly – like every year instead of every three years. In the long run, this is likely to make a bigger difference than symbolism.

Next stop? The game industry

TechWatch has had extended coverage of the game industry lately. Gamers, you know, the only thing they do on time is save their games. With the unveiling of the Xbox One, Microsoft has encountered similar problems among their established base as they have with Windows 8. The gamers fear Microsoft and the evil cabal of game developers want to disable the ability to trade, rent, and buy used games, which yeah, they do. The customers are showing themselves to be afraid of radical changes.

You know what? We don’t think Microsoft gives a rat’s patootie about the gamers in the long run. There’s a new crop of youngsters arriving all the time. Microsoft has always envisioned the Xbox as a living room stalwart for the whole family. Games with the kids and movies and music with Mom and Dad. With every release Microsoft has gained new ground on that front, but it’s going to be hard pressed to compete with other platforms that don’t require membership to get Netflix and Amazon and pay as you go movies. This is one area where Apple is doing a better job with the iTunes store and heck, people hate the iTunes store but at least no one asks you pay a subscription to use it.

So why doesn’t Apple have these problems?

Well, first of all, we think Apple probably will increasingly have these problems as it makes choices between its customers working on PCs and its customers having a good time on devices. But also, Apple offers significant updates to their operating systems for PCs and devices on a yearly basis. It’s more proactive in the way it can respond to users’ requests.

At least on some fronts. One of the first indications of Apple’s distraction as it manages its device business and its PC business was the many ways in which Apple has paid less attention to its workstation products and more attention to the consuming class. And, why not? The consuming class is making Apple rich, the working class (er, that can’t be right, can it?), the elite workstation class has nothing but complaints and demands. Still, Apple is making a pivot with the upcoming round workstation, the Mac Pro, and it’s making a pitch to professional users promising new video tools and, it is hoped, maybe an updated Aperture etc. When it comes to professional software Apple has released solid products and then wandered off leaving their customers to fend for themselves during long refresh cycles. I relish the chance to say this, but it just might be that Apple might benefit from acting a little more like Microsoft in the future.