Microsoft has long been the undisputed king of the desktop world, but their mobile efforts have yet to catch on with consumers. Apple, whose booming iPhone and iPad just carried them to the 4th most profitable quarter of any company in history, still holds a marginal place in traditional personal computers. Both companies have announced new desktop operating systems for 2012, and both have something to prove to themselves, their competitors, and the world. Here's a sneak peek at what's coming this year from Redmond and Cupertino.
Windows 8 is Microsoft's next-generation OS, expected to ship sometime in 2012. The company has often described their strategy for this release as "no compromise." In response to the assertion that, with the rise of smartphones and tablets, we are entering the "post-PC world," Microsoft aims to defend the PC by merging it with these new paradigms. Instead of developing a dedicated tablets OS, Microsoft is engineering Windows 8 to run desktops, laptops, and tablets. They feel that tablets can and should have the full Windows experience, not a simplified or downsized version.
All Windows 8 devices will include a traditional desktop, while simultaneously integrating Microsoft's new Metro design language, which eschews decades of interface concepts and chrome in favor of bold typography, clean lines, and pervasive dynamic content. In the words of Steven Sinofsky, the President of Microsoft's Windows Division, "...the presence of multiple models represents a flexible solution that provides a true no-compromise experience on any platform."
The Start Screen and Metro apps revolve around Live Tiles, which are rectangular elements that display dynamic content, such as email notifications, online photo streams, and social content. Metro apps will be exclusively available through the Windows Store, a digital software marketplace that will be familiar to users of Apple's App Store. Metro represents a seismic shift in experience for traditional Windows users, and is honestly better shown than told. One of the ways to understand what using Windows 8 will be like is to take a look at the preview video from Microsoft shown above. For a hands-on taste of Metro, check out a Windows Phone device, where Metro made its big debut, or an XBox 360, which adopted the software design language in late 2011.
OS X Mountain Lion
As Apple sold more iOS devices in 2011 than they have Macs in 28 years, it's no surprise that the company has been augmenting OS X with features and concepts from its younger sibling. Many technology pundits have predicted an impending unification of Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems, not unlike Microsoft's plans for Windows 8. Apple recently offered a glimpse of OS X Mountain Lion, the OS X upgrade due in summer of 2012, bringing their plans into sharper focus.
Mountain Lion will adopt some popular iOS features, while eliminating irregularities in the features the systems already share. Reminders and Notes, which have awkwardly piggybacked on iCal and Mail for years, will break off into dedicated apps. Notifications, Game Center, and AirPlay Mirroring will make their Mac debut, and iChat, renamed to "Messages," will gain support for Apple's iMessage service (Messages is already available as a beta download for OS X Lion users). Perhaps most importantly, Apple is building their iCloud service more deeply into the OS, which will dramatically streamline jumping between devices. The company has posted a brief video tour of these features and more.
This release will further consolidate iOS and OS X's shared visual language, while stopping short of a Windows 8-esque fusion. In contrast to Microsoft, Apple is doubling down on "compromise" as a means to refine and define each device experience. Apple sees desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones as different devices, each with unique capabilities and distinct limitations. iCloud will serve as the common thread - your data acting as the shared "operating system."
Even with the mobile device market exploding, Microsoft and Apple still clearly believe in the futures of their desktop experiences. The choices made in 2012 may transform how we interact with our computers and one another a decade from now. Are you excited by where we're going? What features, capabilities, and changes coming to Windows and OS X interest you the most? What concerns do you have?
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