Thoughts on A Complete Experience

I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.

For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.

OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.

Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.

If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.

The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.

A Complete Experience

In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.

The experience matters.

Burning Chrome

Google Chrome Comic

Google Chrome Comic

Google plans to release a new browser soon, based on Webkit, but with a new JavaScript engine, which is expected to be significantly faster than most browsers and will be sandboxed to ensure that a crash in one tab doesn’t take out the rest of the browser.

In addition to the blog post, they’ve created an introduction to the browser in comic book form.

While there are a lot of questions about it and some interesting discussion points, I am curious to see how, or if it changes the way we design and develop Web apps. It will also be interesting to see how they design the interface and flows within the browser, having stated that one major goal is to streamline and simplify the UI. The beta Windows version is to be released today, with Mac and Linux versions coming soon.

I am also very curious about the privacy implications inherent in this release. Google has reached a point where they have an insane level of information about the interests (Google search, AdSense), browsing habits (Google Analytics, DoubleClick), events (Google Calendar), personal and business plans and finances (Google Apps) and personal connections (gMail, gTalk) of nearly everyone who uses the Web. While I love their motto of “Do No Evil”, I can’t bring myself to trust that it will always hold true, whether by internal decisions, or by outside pressure from stock holders or governments (wow, now I’m starting to sound like the other Alex Jones).

I will definitely test the browser, and I look forward to the concepts they are introducing. A shakeup in the market will be useful, even if it reignites the browser wars, and causes consternation amongst those of us who build Web apps and sites. We’re pushing forward, which is a good thing, but we need to temper our excitement (or annoyance) with the impact this will have on the Web and be wary of what we as consumers and users trade for the new browser.

Print to PDF on Windows Without Acrobat

I recently needed to produce a PDF on my XP box at work, but as I didn’t have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed I had to do some digging. Luckily it didn’t take too long to find a convenient solution. Even better, I found an easy and free solution: doPDF. This utility installs itself as a virtual printer, providing the ability to create PDFs by selecting the plugin as the printer of choice in any program, in the same manner as Acrobat’s”Print as PDF” functionality.

It does exactly what it says on the site, even on a 64 bit install of XP.

For folks using OS X – the functionality is baked into your computer!

Virtual PC set free – further thoughts

After my initial post about Virtual PC and subsequent mailings to a couple of Web dev lists that I am subscribed to, I had a couple of interesting conversations on what this release means and why/if it is important. The question also came up as to whether or not the release is related to Apple’s BootCamp, which I asserted.

I do see a connection to BootCamp and Parallels. Virtualization is a powerful tool for develoeprs on any platform and I think Microsoft has recognized this about a step behind Apple, which has started to push this feature in one of the new commercials.

While Virtual PC won’t allow folks to run OS X software on a Windows box, it will provide a lot of folks the ability to set up a very cheap test environment for multiple operating systems and browsers, which will be important with the coming releases of IE 7 and Vista.

As a developer, I had been pondering the jump to OS X but held off for quite a while as I didn’t want to maintain a PC and a Mac at the same time. Once the Intel-based Macs came out and people started hacking the system to support XP, the need for a separate box for secondary/multiple OSes was gone. Now I can run multiple versions of Windows on my Macbook to test various OS/browser combos in addition to the Mac ones. Ultimately that means that Microsoft, and Windows-centric software makers will get less of my money (I won’t need to buy anything but the OS licenses) and Apple will gain another ardent user who has the ability to ensure his sites are compatible with their software.

This is an interesting battle as Apple sees itself as a hardware company that makes software and Microsoft views itself as a software company that produces products to work on most any “standardized” machine.

This may signal a new front in the war for computer market share; one that I hope will translate into more competition and improved features for all of us.

Virtual PC Set Free

Microsoft has set Virtual PC free. Makes me wonder if the folks in Redmond have taken notice of Apple’s free BootCamp or Parallel’s Desktop app. Use Virtual PC to “run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same physical computer. Switch between virtual machines with the click of a button. Use virtual machines to run legacy applications, provide support, train users, and enhance quality assurance.” This is great news for those of us wanting to test IE 7 (or for that matter, Vista) without installing the beta on a production system. It will also prove useful once the full version is out, and we want to keep a version of IE 6 handy.

Boot Camp

The pieces are falling into place… My shift to the Mac will be complete, now that Apple has released Boot Camp, software that will allow users to run Windows XP on Intel based Macs. A tasty quote from the release:

“Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple’s superior hardware now that we use Intel processors,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch.”

Life. Is. Good.

Now… to go order my MacBook Pro.

XP on MacTel is official

The fine folks at Engadget bring word that the installation of Windows XP on an Intel-powered Mac has been verified, generating $13,000 of prize money for the winner, narf2006. It sounds like extensive hacking was involved, so it is by no means ready for the public, but it should provide a starting point from which developers can build an open source project to spread the love. More info to be posted on the official site.

Firefox 1.0 Steps Up

Mozilla Firefox 1.0 has been released! This is great news for Web developers and users both. I highly recommend everyone grab a copy once the servers recover from the initial download frenzy. Remember to make a list of your extensions and back up your profile before installing!

These direct links to download the release, are still working:

IE Users: Beware of JPEGs

Yet another reason to drop Internet Explorer and Outlook as your browser and e-mail clients: Microsoft has announced a serious vulnerability in the way it handles the most popular digital picture format. As stated in the previously linked, story from The Register, the hole “potentially allows an attacker to craft a special JPEG file that would take control of a victim’s machine when the user views it through Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, and other programs. The poisoned picture could be displayed on a website, sent in email, or circulated on a P2P network.”