I watched with great interest Microsoft's announcement Monday of its new tablet, Surface. But I was even more amused by what happened later, after I posted a link to the product web site on my Facebook feed. Two comments were left: one from a former college roommate of mine, the other from an online-only acquaintance. I'll call them Person 1 and Person 2:
PERSON 1: After using a Mac and an iPad for the past 2 years, and not having any of the freeze-ups, crashes, or viruses that were part of using Windows, there's no way in the world I'd ever go back to Microsoft.
PERSON 2: I hate Mac in every form. the only thing that will keep me from buying [Microsoft Surface] immediately is the price.
It seems that there are Windows people, and there are Apple people.
Of necessity, many of us here in the newsroom are both. I have a PC at home, running a preview version of Windows 8, but here in the newsroom we're all Macintosh. Ever since the earliest days of Mac, it's had great publishing and layout software, and so you'll find a much higher percentage of Macs used at newspapers and publishing companies than in the general public. That's not universal; there are certainly newspapers that use PC-based systems.
I use a Windows Phone 7.5-based cell phone; I originally bought it because of a sale, but I've become sold on the Windows Phone interface and will seek it out next time around.
As well as the tile-based Metro interface works in Windows Phone, I'm still not sold on it for the desktop, especially since few of us have touch screens at home. The Windows 8 preview defaults to a tile-based interface, which replaces the old Windows "Start" menu. You can click through and get to the traditional Windows desktop. To me, it still seems gimmicky and unnatural as a desktop interface. I've been trying to give it a chance, but it's not really winning me over. I suspect that it will work much better on a touchscreen tablet like the Surface.
But tablets may be where we're heading for the future. I don't think desktop computing is going away any time soon, especially for business, but tablets and phones are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our digital lives, at the expense of the time we spend sitting in front of a desktop computer screen.
Surface is an interesting project. By coming out with its own tablet, Microsoft risks alienating its hardware partners -- the companies like Dell or HP who make PCs, tablets and phones using Windows software. But Microsoft has seen the advantages Apple has due to its complete integration of hardware and software. Just as it did when it entered the gaming market with XBox, Microsoft has apparently decided that it's important to act aggressively in order to get a foothold, and that meant coming out with its own hardware.
Microsoft is firmly in control of the market for desktop operating systems. Businesses, which want backward compatibility, are entrenched Windows users, and so PC manufacturers have got to keep producing Windows PCs, even if they're annoyed at Microsoft for becoming their competitor in the hardware market. But when it comes to tablets, manufacturers can choose between Windows 8 or Android. The risk for Microsoft is that some of the companies which had been planning to make Windows 8 tablets will shift their focus to Android instead as a result of Surface.
But if the Surface is a success and can establish a beachhead for the Windows 8 interface, other manufacturers may want to follow suit and may be able to find their own niches, with cheaper versions of Windows 8 tablets. or perhaps a super-deluxe version.
It should be an interesting year in the technology industry.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.