Thursday, May 08, 2014

I Think Microsoft Is Back

I had an opportunity to connect the Microsoft vision with Windows 8, RT, and Mobile. Tonight, I went out shopping for tires for my wife's van. So naturally, I wound up at Best Buy to check out what's new on the retail tech market. I had a chance to play with a touchscreen Windows 8 all-in-one computer. In recent days, I have heard good reports on Windows 8.1 for mobile, especially Cortana, the new personal assistant. And, of course, I've had clients purchase the Microsoft Surface tablet. All of these together gave me the "aha!" moment I get from time to time.

Before jumping into the blog post, allow me to preface that I am a big Google fan. I love the way Google does many things, even the ones that freak other people out. When I recommend to clients that they should switch to Google Apps, it's often because of the low cost and ease of use. The biggest hurdle I have is when people are steeped in Microsoft experience. I cannot, for the life of me, convince people to give up their damned Microsoft Outlook. They see the ease and simplicity of Google Apps as being inferior, even though they never use 90% of the features of Outlook.

Having said that, I am also well versed in Microsoft products. In the past, I've been a fan of their products, such as BackOffice, OneNote, Excel, and others. I think they have some great products. Unfortunately, in the past, they have been very closed in saving the best for the Microsoft platforms.

For example, I may have gone the way of OneNote rather than Evernote if Microsoft had bothered to make OneNote usable on PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and web. Instead, it was only available on PC and Windows Mobile 6.

Of course, Microsoft has parallel products to Google Apps, they have had them for years. I've turned a blind eye to them, primarily because their marketing has been lousy. I'm sure they spend money promoting their cloud products; but, it just hasn't reached me. As an IT guy, it always falls upon me to fix the messes they make. So, with each iteration of their products come new batches of work. I suppose I should be grateful for the technical problems they create. But, for my personal needs, I tend to want to bother less with fixing my own stuff. Thus, Google.

In fact, the only reason that I have even bothered trying to understand their new products is because I listened to +Leo Laporte talk about how great the Nokia Lumia is, and his excitement with the new personal assistant on Windows 8.1 for mobile, Cortana.

When Apple introduced Siri, it seemed gimmicky. Apple tends to make waves with new technology, and then stagnate while others improve on their ideas. More often than not, I've heard people use Siri for entertainment than for actual assistance. Google Now, on the other hand, is pretty kick-ass. After seeing reviews on Cortana, I can see that it will be the killer app for Microsoft. It seems much more capable than Siri and Google Now.

Thanks to my IT work, I've figured out Windows 8. Unfortunately, I've figured this out in production environments, which means laptops and desktops. These are lousy environments for getting the most out of Windows 8. The reason they are lousy is because Windows 8 is best experienced with a touchscreen. Tonight, at Best Buy, I got it. I did not need a mouse or keyboard to search for products on the Best Buy website, at the store. It was tap tap tap, swipe, type, tap, swipe, and so on.

Having become a tablet user, primarily, it was intuitive to use a touchscreen desktop computer. Everything is there. Swiping. Touching. Pinching. Expanding. The main difference is that you have a big ass screen rather than a 7 or 10 inch tablet. AND, you can run full applications.

I see Windows RT as the "I need to carry my work with me" solution. Well, at least now I do. RT is a bit more restricted than regular Windows 8.1. But, at least you can access the essentials, such as Microsoft Office and cloud services.

Windows 8.1 for mobile, the one with Cortana, is not a work device. You can access your work, if necessary; but, it's mainly for what I would consider field work.

I think Microsoft is doing a great job in creating a familiar experience on all three platforms so that you don't have to relearn how to work on each device. Google, on the other hand, has a disconnect between the Chromebook and Android products. The experience is distinctly full-on Google through the Chromebook, or distinctly Android. Even so, the Chromebook experience is very different from what you would get on a PC or Mac.

It has been a while since I have felt this excited about Microsoft. They have been wandering around in the woods for some time; and I'm glad they have returned with some wisdom. They have always been smart; but, they have not always been wise. I welcome them back.

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