The OS future

Windows 8 has been unveiled, OSx is Roaring, and Ubuntu is trying to create a Unity. These new OS’s give us a peek at the future, but what does it really say?

Over on ZDNet Ed Bott wrote a nice article on Windows 8. I’m not going to go into it in detail, but the Article and the screen shots got me to thinking, what is the future of the Operating Systems in general? Ubuntu and Windows have come up with new GUIs, and they are different. Geared toward simplifying navigation, are these becoming too simple? Are we getting to the point of making something that a fool can use, and only a fool will use it?

I am not against change, as long as there is a good reason for it. Making a GUI more user friendly is not a bad thing. The big problems I have with the way Ubuntu, and now Windows are going about it though worries me from a support standpoint. How much more difficult is it becoming to find the deep areas that those of us who do troubleshoot machines use? How much more training will we need? How will this affect how people use the OS in a business environment?

The OS that has changed the least in GUI appearance over the years is Macintosh. The basic layout, and where you find things has been essentially the same going back to its beginning, with just some upgrades to that classic look and feel. Apple boasts about how easy it is to use a Mac, and from an OS standpoint, they are right. You don’t have to learn a new GUI with every update. You have your bar up top which allows for the classic drop down menus. They added the dock at the bottom, but you don’t have to use it.

Unity, the new look kills off the classic menu structures to get at your programs. It takes more clicks to find something that is not docked. The more elegant look actually becomes more complex. When you log into the OS, you can choose to go back to the Classic look, but it is not prevalent on how to, although it is simple if you know where to look. Still, the more complex sets of clicks to find an installed program can be a big hindrance to acceptance. Also realize the look doesn’t add anything to security.

Windows 8 poses a bigger question. With it being meant for touch screen, although you can use a mouse and keyboard, and the look and feel being more toward Microsoft’s phone OS, how is this going to complicate finding files, finding software you install? The desktop space is a premium but, as we all know, you put too much there it becomes hard to find what you are looking for. Also what about software that is not on the desktop? How about file exploring especially if you are on a network where items are kept on multiple network drives?

These questions, and where the companies want to steer the computing world are really what will shape the future, and also cause problems. Too much change at once is not good, and change for its own sake usually causes more problems than its worth. Only time will tell what the answers are but, from first glance, it seems as if making the look the same across all platforms is happening, and from there, maybe you get into a situation like Chrome OS, where it is basically a browser, and nothing is kept locally. If that is the case, you can port your GUI look across multiple devices easy, but then who owns your information since it will not be stored locally? Its something to think about.

Ubuntu Unity: Nice Idea but…

I’ve been a fan of Ubuntu for a number of years. Over the last month I’ve been playing with version 11.04 which has unity. So here is my take on it.

Being one of those who is a tech person, and always wants to find a way to hook new users onto Linux, I was really curious as to the new Unity interface that Ubuntu was putting out. Could it be something that brings Linux to more people? The answer I found is no. At least not yet.

Unity is a slick looking GUI. It is lacking though. First, there is no menu scheme, access to any software is done off the new launcher bar. This wouldn’t be so bad, except to find any software not tacked to the bar, you need to really go digging. the applications window that you get to can get confusing, and won’t show you everything without at least 3 mouse clicks, and even then things can get missed. Yes, as you get used to a new layout, it becomes more natural, but this is a big deviation from what most people know. Its not intuitive, and really needs a lot of refining. While on the login screen you can switch to a classic mode, for someone new to Ubuntu and Linux, it again isn’t intuitive.

The other issue I’ve run into is with a customized dual monitor setup. Unity doesn’t seem to like it too much. I’ve had nothing but problems with that setup.

The underpinnings are fine, and yes if you know how to replace the GUI with Gnome or KDE, 11.04 is a solid system. Unfortunately for a version that is supposed to be for the everyday person, the Unity interface has a long way to go.

Windows 7 is a crossgrade?

A person I know recently wrote a nice little blog piece about how Windows 7 is a Crossgrade. They made some really nice points, but missed the mark on a bunch of others.

First off, the statement that you do not “own” your copy of Windows is correct, this statement is also true of OSX. From the EULA for OSX, “The software (including Boot ROM code), documentation and any fonts accompanying this License whether on disk, in read only memory, on any other media or in any other form (collectively the “Apple Software”) are licensed, not sold, to you by Apple Computer, Inc.” This is why its called Licensing, and while even the GNU Public License allows one to modify the source code, there are still restrictions as to what you need to do for distribution otherwise you have broken the agreement. This is not inductive of owning the software itself.

The next thing is about viruses. I do not deny that Windows has more Malware made for it than any other Operating System, but in this case its about security through obscurity. The people who are writing the majority of viruses now seem to be doing it for money, a way to get personal information and sell it. The best and easiest way to do this efficiently is to target the weakest link, which would wind up being the end user. The majority of end user machines run Windows software. Now to be a bit more fair, Apple has finally started recommending that its users get some sort of anti-malware protection. As a matter of fact there was an OSX Botnet that was found to be active last year. Heck even Linux has a botnet which winds up distributing Windows Malware. So much for that argument.

Apple did a great thing with the $30 upgrade to Snow Leopard, and yes it has Windows beat on the price point there. Microsoft did have some good short term deals when Windows 7 came out such as special student pricing and family packs, but it does cost a bit more to go to Windows 7, and in the long run for an everyday user, it would be more efficient to get a new machine. Of course last year there were a number of companies that would send you Windows 7 for free if you bought a computer from them, a free upgrade from Vista.

Finally, is Windows 7 perfect. No it is not perfect, but it is better than prior versions, and is a step in the right direction. Nobody gets it 100% correct (Snow Leopard shiped with an old version of Flash with a major flaw), but they try. Honestly Microsoft’s OS is closer to Linux than Apple’s in my opinion, considering how much more guarded Apple is about allowing people develop for it. Speaking of Linux, I do use Ubuntu, and I love it. I would love to see more people use it, but I know that comes with some risks and more chance for it to become scrutinized more. I look at Firefox and see what could happen to Linux if it became more mainstream. Linux, I feel,  first needs to become more homogeneous so people don’t have to worry about what flavor of Linux they get.

There are pluses and minuses to every OS out there, and not everyone is going to agree on everything, but at least look at things logically and thoroughly first.