windows 8

One of the best things about the Surface Pro 3 is its pen. It’s changed the way I take notes, brainstorm and review PDFs. As useful as the pen is, however, I can’t help but think its implementation in Windows is a half-measure.

Currently, the pen’s behavior is different depending on where you use it. In the operating system parts of Windows and in programs like Word, the pen is a mouse replacement. Then in certain apps like OneNote, it acts like a pen that you can draw with. You can mark up PDF files, but not JPG or DOC files.

This specificity is fine for knowledgeable users, but for casual users it’s confusing to remember what the pen can be used for where. If there’s no clear sense how a tool will be used, chances are it won’t be.

For the pen to ever have mainstream adoption, it should be used consistently no matter where you are, like the mouse or keyboard. Ideally, you should be able to write, draw and mark-up with the pen everywhere. The pen doesn’t ever need to be a mouse replacement.

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Now that Windows 10 Technical Preview is out, opinions are flooding in about Microsoft’s oddly named OS. One of the common remarks is how modern Start Screen from Windows 8 is out the window because, you know, people hate it.

I disagree. Whether you like colorful live tiles is a subjective choice — it’s an opinion about aesthetics, like how one person could like TouchWiz but another could abhor it — but the Windows 8 Start Screen is not functionally inferior. As an app launcher, it’s actually superior to the traditional Start Menu.

But if flat, colorful boxes aren’t your thing, that’s understandable. That’s an opinion.

You may not like how TouchWiz looks, but that doesn’t make a Samsung phone objectively bad.

Windows 8 was objectively bad, but for other reasons.

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While I was researching my story about Chromebooks for TechSpot last week (a synthesis of stuff I’ve written before), I found this interesting article from OMG!Chrome!, a Chromebook enthusiast site.

It’s a strong argument that the people buying Chromebooks in retail and online aren’t normal people with low computing needs — they are in fact tech savvy people looking for a cheap second device.

Based on past articles, it might seem like I hate Chromebooks. Nothing of the sort. Thin clients like Chromebooks are the future and I can’t wait for us to get there. However, that future is still far away, and the amount of hype and coverage dedicated to Chromebooks today far exceed what it deserves.

An excellent device for your grandma? I think not. A companion device for gadget lovers? Sure, I get that. Chromebook’s simple nature and fast boot times can make a great experience for specific use cases.

But I wouldn’t recommend Chromebooks to “normal” people. If you think Windows RT or 8 are difficult to comprehend, Chromebooks are worse.

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Ten years ago, when Microsoft had more than 90% control of the computer market, they were handcuffed in how they can innovate Windows due to anti-trust concerns.  Some things were already obvious even for Vista (at least to me while I was there): native security, centralized app store, collaboration, etc.

The reality today is that Microsoft has merely 14% share of the larger devices market.  So Microsoft was finally able to build in security and an app store into Windows 8.  They misfired on the latter however by making it unpleasant for those living in the desktop world to download and use Modern apps; an error they are fixing for Windows 9.

Windows is in danger of losing relevance in today’s mobile world.  The brain trust in Redmond is busy figuring out how to catch up with Windows Phone, but it would be a great mistake to put Windows into maintenance mode.  Windows is still one of Microsoft’s greatest assets, and instead of fighting losing battles, they should be building more strengths unique to Windows.  Especially now that they don’t have to answer to regulators.

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The narrative is that Chromebooks are disrupting Windows PCs.  Forbes: “Here’s why Microsoft is worried about Google Chromebooks.” The Verge: “The Chromebook is just a better device.” WSJ: “Google’s winning over some businesses.” The Street: “Why Google’s Chromebook is better than Windows, Mac and Android.”

Let’s run with the assumption that Chromebooks are doing well and compete with laptop PCs. Advocates claim non-tech savvy consumers choose Chromebooks for generally three reasons: 1) simplicity, 2) low maintenance and 3) easy usage in its fast start-up times. I disagree. People with low computing needs don’t buy Chromebooks because they are a better experience; they buy them because of PRICE.

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A story made the rounds a few days ago about Microsoft battling Chromebooks with two cheap Windows PCs. It’s good that Microsoft is taking Chromebooks seriously. It should. It’s a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s a capable device for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need. All for $200 to $350.

But you know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

The only thing Chromebooks share with laptops is a keyboard. When your grandparents’ old creaky laptop dies, will you buy them a $200 Chromebook or a $24 keyboard to pair with the $500 iPad they already know how to use?