A recent techradar article addressed differences between Windows 8 and Apple’s OSX Lion Operating Systems (OSes). That article concluded that comparing them was like comparing “Belgium and cheese”, as they both ran from completely different “perspectives”. This conclusion did’t really gel too well with the rest of the article, which gave Windows a fair bit of glory and tried to shuffle Apple’s latest OS (actually, not their latest OS – OSX ‘Mountain Lion’ will release shortly before Windows 8 does) under the carpet. Their ultimate justification for saying the two were just so different as to make them impossible to compare was this – the Apple product had a kind of “iPad-y desirability” to it, which apparently makes up for all its other shortcomings made evident throughout the article.
I’m not here to suggest that looks and shininess beats functionality. I’m willing to accept that Apple’s products do seduce some users solely based on their prettiness. But I have a real axe to grind with the article’s writer when he suggests that the two OSes come from ‘different perspectives’, and that Apple’s perspective is driven by whatever ‘looks good’. More notable than differences in visuals are differences in company design philosophies, foundation firmware and product purpose. I’m not going to have time to look at the latter two categories today, but I’d love to explain why a difference in design philosophy goes way, way deeper than a difference in looks – ‘iPad-y desirability’ be damned.
Windows’ fundamental design philosophy is simple. It can be summarised by ‘the maximum possible functionality for the maximum number of users’. Apple’s, on the other hand can be summarised by ‘the maximum possible human interactivity using the minimum possible resources’. And these two design philosophies are so utterly divergent as to yield a bunch of products that are effectively incomparable. What Windows does great – and what Google is doing great through its Android OS – is providing so diverse a range of options to the consumer as to cater for any possible specific requirement (though not necessarily all in one machine). Let’s take an example. If you have Windows 7 compatible software packages for dell printers present at home or office, you could still run it on Windows 8 – they just chuck the snazzy new Metro interface and plonk you back with good old Windows Explorer. It’s hardly an elegant solution, but it ensures the maximum compatibility with backdated software. It’s hard to imagine Apple doing the same. Why? Not because Apple needs you to buy the newest and best. But because typically, when Apple believes that it’s reinvented a market (or re-envisaged the future of a piece of technology, as they’d probably prefer to put it) it sticks to its guns. Apple has a long history of simply
doing away with aspects to its OS, software or hardware ecosystem that it didn’t feel had a future. This has often caused mass outcry – but it’s also the attitude that has made them so successful. The ‘minimum possible resources’ can’t abide laggy extras.
Ultimately, both products want to position themselves as being the ultimate portal to the world of digital consumerism. But their design philosophies – so, so much more than simply the way they look – are so radically different that the innovation market is just way too fluid to predict. The most academic psychologists find the future of technology impermeable. It’s a major problem in education. And part of what’s contributing to that complexity is the inability to measure winner vs loser in the technology design sphere. So. That’s why Windows 8 and Apple’s OSX Lion just can’t be compared ex nihil. You’ve got to consider not only what you need to achieve with a machine – you’ve got to think about which future you want to be a part of.