OPINION

How Apple Made Windows 7 Better

Last week, a number of Apple supporters took me to task for my comment that Apple made the technology equivalent of sugar water and that Steve Jobs gave up on his goal of changing the world. I’m hardly original in thinking this way. It does amaze me that not a single Apple fan cared about global warming, philanthropy or even Apple’s lack of computing prowess. They earn their reputations every week.

This week, I’ll argue that Apple did unintentionally change the world by making Windows (especially Windows 7), Palm and Google’s Android better. I’ll then discuss what I think “changing the world” means and use Marvell as the example of how to do that.

I’ll close with my product of the week: an inexpensive little home server that uses Marvell’s Sheeva Plug Computing platform and could represent the beginning of a shift that could be as big as the change ushered in by the original x86 processor.

One Competitor at a Time

When Apple started, both Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs appeared to have a dream that wasn’t much different from what Bill Gates and Paul Allan envisioned. They wanted to change the world of computing. In fact, their 1984 ad, which still ranks as the best Super Bowl ad of all time, basically imagines a time when Apple replaces IBM as market leader.

However, history tells a different tale — Bill Gates saw Apple’s potential but realized the company couldn’t scale to the level both men were shooting for, and he tried to license the operating system. After Bill was refused, he created a clone. As a result, it was Microsoft — not Apple — that drove the PC revolution and actually changed the world.

There is no doubt that Microsoft would not have been able to do that had it not been for Apple showcasing the idea. I think it makes sense to argue that had Apple cooperated with Microsoft, there might have been not only shared dominance, but also a better solution for users as a result. That isn’t what happened, though, and the real change came as a result of what Microsoft — not Apple — actually accomplished. There is no argument that Microsoft is vastly more powerful than Apple is.

With the iPhone, Apple did shake up the market, and there are iPhone-like products from companies as wide ranging as Samsung, LG Electronics, Research In Motion, HTC and Palm. Microsoft is once again looking at what Apple has done and is pitching an iPhone-like platform to Verizon, among others.

The Palm Pre — and I played with it for a while — is actually better, in a lot of ways that count, than the iPhone. The Android not only is nearly as good, but also has similar scale advantages to what Microsoft had against Apple in the early years.

There is little doubt that the iPhone began the change, but it appears that one of a number of vendors will now likely end up as dominant. Apple’s continued threats against Palm indicate it doesn’t have a good competitive response. If the pattern repeats itself, Apple once again will have come up with a concept that someone else will use to dominate a market.

In short, Apple simply enabled another company to actually change the world. The Apple Newton kind of plowed the field for Palm. (As a side note, here is some interesting analysis on the coming patent fight between the two firms).

Apple’s Windows 7 Renovation Effort

I just finished a deep dive on Windows 7. I installed the Release Candidate (RC) version on three machines, and I now have a good grasp of the product, the launch and the surrounding ecosystem. This is the best-prepared Microsoft has ever been since I started covering the company and, to a large extent, it owes a lot of its success to Apple.

The Mac vs. PC ads served as a better motivator than any Microsoft manager could have, keeping an incredibly complex company focused on the items Apple signified were the most damaging, until there weren’t any left to focus on.

In addition, Microsoft has gone beyond Apple in areas like virus protection, in that it now is building its own free antivirus product, while Apple seems to be emulating the Microsoft of the ’90s and ignoring the problem.

Until now, Apple has been blessed, because Windows has been more vulnerable and more prevalent. However, after Windows 7 launches and users get free AV, Windows will be more secure — on paper, anyway — and the virus writers will likely switch their focus to Apple. Given that Apple vulnerabilities are demonstrated every year at the Black Hat conference, this probably won’t end well for Apple. Still, it played a major part in propelling Microsoft’s aggressive move to improve Windows.

For some reason, this reminds me of the joke about the two guys running from the bear. One stops to put on running shoes and his soon-to-be-ex-buddy says, “What are you doing? You’ll never outrun the bear.” To which he responds, “I don’t have to outrun the bear — I just have to outrun you.” The virus writers are the bear, and Microsoft is putting on the running shoes. In the end, Apple made Windows 7 better — and I bet it will regret this a lot, come October.

Marvell Changing the World

I was at the CITRIS press event last week to watch one of Marvell’s founders, a UC Berkeley graduate, passionately describe her shared vision to change the way engineers are taught so that more could be capable of building companies like Microsoft and Apple. This was not about selling Marvell products, but about creating a change that could restore the kind of entrepreneurship that originally created the Silicon Valley and has been absent of late.

The idea behind CITRIS is to create a unique incubator that rewards students for the creation of marketable products rather than for artificial research assignments, cookie-cutter term papers, or how creatively they can game the system.

Too many kids are coming out of the education system with their only real skills being video gaming and taking credit for others’ work. This is a huge drag on the businesses that hire them. The CITRIS and Marvell efforts are designed to change that and, based on what students told me at the event held on the CITRIS Berkeley campus, they’re excited about what they’re learning, because they aren’t wasting their time on pointless exercises. They are building real products and real business models.

What also makes CITRIS different is the blend of social sciences, legal experts, business experts and programmers under one roof. CITRIS is now in the process of trying to replicate this project around the world, and it should be successful, because it has already generated 76 startups that have captured the interest of some of the largest funding bodies in the world.

If this works, it will make learning about technology not only one of the most interesting university choices, but also one of the most lucrative for both the university and the student. To me, that is the kind of change that truly goes beyond sugar water. CITRIS could immortalize the folks who backed it and represent a massively powerful world change.

Wrapping Up: Apple’s Sugar Water

In the end, here’s a snapshot of the three companies I discussed last week: Google is indexing the world, backing a smart grid and solar energy, and making charities profitable. Microsoft made Apple’s 1984 vision real and the PC successful, while Bill Gates is the leading philanthropist in the world.

Apple, on the other hand, only leads the world in iPods — the technology equivalent of sugar water. Apple really isn’t even in the same league as the other two companies, although being a leader in that league appeared to be its initial goal. So, Steve, do you really want to change the world? Or have you settled for selling sugar water now?

Product of the Week

The Pogoplug, based on Marvell’s Sheeva plug computing platform, is my product of the week for two reasons: One, it is coming from a company that is trying to change the world in a way I think we need to see it changed; and two, because I really think this idea — still in its infancy — could, by itself, change the world of computing.

The Pogoplug is a US$99 server that you attach to a USB storage device (for instance an Iomega Prestige 1 TB drive that costs about $100) to create an incredibly easy-to-use and inexpensive server. The functionality is limited to local and remote access, but think of having your own Terabyte server for under $200.

What makes this revolutionary is that the concept is little dedicated computers each running one key application and costing little more than the application might cost alone. This potentially takes the whole idea of multiprocessors and virtualization and turns it on its ear, and the concept could eventually revolutionize how we build and use both home computers and data centers. Microsoft has been suggesting a rethinking of data centers using a similar concept.

Watch this space. I really don’t think Marvell truly knows yet what it has here, and the word “disruptive” barely scratches the surface of how something like this could change the world.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


8 Comments

  • Apple helped MS and Palm in the same way as Pefontaine "helped" other runners. By demonstrating what could be done he made the other runners work harder. This is a concept the Greeks understood with their Olympics and likely it is older than that: competition.

    • First of all you have it all wrong. Apple paid for some technologies to Parc. They did not steal. MS stole and never paid for it. Don’t think XEROX had anything close to what Macintosh 1.0 had when it was released. A ton of technologies had to be INVENTED at Apple, that Microsoft liberally stole from them. Here are just a few things of what Apple had to invent.

      – Progress dialogs

      – Confirmation dialogs (Star had one line at the top of the screen where you clicked Yes or No.)

      – Drag and Drop on desktop — In Star the user selected the icon, pressed a keyboard key for Copy or Move, then clicked at the destination. Macintosh Drag and Drop feels more natural.

      – Macintosh icons have much better labels. It’s a small thing, but in Star the label is part of the icon, so more than about 8 characters gets chopped off.

      – Tool palettes — Star didn’t use these. The first instance I’m aware of is in MacPaint.

      – Menus — Macintosh had a menubar, Star didn’t. Star had a few menus that popped up from buttons in windows headers or dialog boxes, but it didn’t use a menubar. In fact it used very few menu commands — relying instead on a few keys on the keyboard and property sheets (dialogs). See http://www.digibarn.com/friends/curbow/star/1/p6-lg.jpg

      — Better designs for Radio Buttons, Checkboxes — Star’s dialog box widgets really weren’t as well designed as those in Macintosh. Nore were there as many different kinds of widets.

      – Setting properties via menus — Macintosh used menus like Font, Size to set properties on content. In Star you had to use the property sheet.

      – Keyboard Equivalents (aka Command-Keys) — Star didn’t use these, but they had been used earlier in SmallTalk-80 at PARC.

      – Color — Star didn’t have color until much later than Macintosh, and it wasn’t done nearly as well.

      -Smalltalk has no Finder

      -resources and dual-fork files for storing layout and international information apart from code

      -definition procedures

      – drag-and-drop system extension and configuration

      -types and creators for files

      -direct manipulation editing of document

      -disk, and application names

      -redundant typed data for the clipboard

      -multiple views of the file system

      -desk accessories

      -control panels, AM ong others

      -pull down menus

      -imaging and windowing models based on QuickDraw

      -the clipboard

      -cleanly internationalizable software.

      http://www.folklore.org

      http://rixstep.com/2/20090326,00.shtml

      • Your missing the point. Its the dude that steals all the ideas that gets to write the history! Or, something like that. lol

        Seriously though, MS can’t, due to "backward compatibility", and in some cases, basic refusal to listen to anyone about problems other than "security", to fix issues that have been around since Windows 3.0, when they where trying to bury other innovators, like Lotus 1-2-3. Do we really want an anti-virus from some morons who are likely to make a mistake, which causes, oh, say.. a few open source applications to get marked as "dangerous", by accident or otherwise, in their virus DB, and them deciding, "A well, this is like that Lotus bug, which even in 7 still insists certain days in certain years don’t exist, its not worth *fixing*." The idea of MS making a virus scanner is something that I AM not sure to be terrified of, or just laugh at. All you have to do is look at their fracking useless excuse for "firewall" software, which barely gives you enough actual control over what its doing to run Windows correctly, never mind run anything that requires things you ***can’t*** tell it to allow you to do at all, like TCP/IP based traces, instead of some ISP blocking ICMP (just one off the top of my head, since its one I tried to find a way around a while back), to see how likely it is for them to get "virus" protection right, or provide you with any sort of "sane" way to control what its doing.

        Here is my bet. It will do the same lame thing the "Onetouch" backup software does (from yet another company of morons), and ignore certain files, because you don’t have the mega-super-expenso version, not let you deny it to right to look for them in certain folders, so it will end up taking 8 hours to check a 1TB drive, since it will look through "every single" archive, including gigs of "game files", trying to find viruses AM ongst bitmaps, fonts, mesh data, etc., which couldn’t have gotten in there in the first place, and it will hang every once in a while, because it will be too stupid to ignore the 3.5" drive you only have for the "rare" times you want to install something under DOSBox, but some glitch in its code will send it on an infinite loop 1:30 times, the moment it "attempts" to access the device. lol

        Yeah. So… looking forward to what ever mess they make of virus protection, given how "well" they manage to avoid stupid mistake every place else.

  • This guy, Rob, is hilarious. I AM admirer of Steven Colbert, because he has insane ability to counter facts and reality with unique sense of logic-illogic. Rob reminds me that, that’s why I come back.

    If Mr. Enderle, you are trying the same stunt, good luck. Otherwise watch out — you may have been developing a unique mental condition.

  • A dissection of your OPINION and a couple of questions.

    "Microsoft is once again looking at what Apple has done" – is that how you rationalize your statement that "Apple contributed substantially to improvements in Windows, especially Windows 7"

    "The Palm Pre — and I played with it for a while — is actually better, in a lot of ways that count" – Please explain these ways "that count". So you played with a Pre for a while? good to know that you form your technical opinions on playing with an unfinished demo OS Pre. Do you give as little effort as possible to form your opinion?

    "Apple’s continued threats against Palm indicate it doesn’t have a good competitive response" – This statement makes me wonder what is in all those emails you send to your critics that you do not want posted to the web. Could it be that you don’t have a good competitive response? Since when has a companies requirement by law to protect their copyright from being infringed upon an indication that it is no longer competitive?

    "Apple simply enabled another company to actually change the world." – innovation builds on innovation. Intel made a processor that enabled another company to make a computer that enabled another company etc. Every innovation is a step toward changing the world.

    "This is the best-prepared Microsoft has ever been since I started covering the company" – It better be the best prepared after the disaster entitled "Vista" . microsoft PR is doing a great job letting everyone know

    "Microsoft has gone beyond Apple in areas like virus protection, in that it now is building its own free antivirus product" – it is needed badly, but i hardly see how this is caused by Apple somehow as you stated "Apple contributed substantially to improvements in Windows, especially Windows 7"

    Windows will be more secure — on paper, anyway — and the virus writers will likely switch their focus to Apple – this sentence, especially the word "likely" makes you sounds very indifferent. It sounds like you are already doubting that statement. How would you explain the articles floating around the net entitled "New Windows 7 hack purports to be "unfixable"". It doesnt sound like virus writers switched their focus to Apple.

    "Still, it played a major part in propelling Microsoft’s aggressive move to improve Windows". – Really? Im surprised. You would think that the utter failure of Vista and the next 6 years it took to fix it a major part in propelling Microsoft’s aggressive move to improve Windows

    "In the end, Apple made Windows 7 better — and I bet it will regret this a lot, come October." – again i have to ask you how you are coming to this conclusion that Apple made Windows better. Apple seems to have done nothing but make money from the hordes of people Vista disappointed.

    If you will excuse me, I now have to restart my crashing Dell (aka piece of junk)

  • It took about two paragraphs into this one to find out Enderle’s attempting to rewrite history. Normally, he’s just a blithering idiot making it up as he goes along, which is easily ignored. However now he chooses to define Apple in terms of how the competition copied them. For the record, it’s not just "fanboys," or whatever he thinks we all are. He’s wrong about more than just Apple, and he proves it with every post. I feel sorry for anyone who actually PAYS Enderle for "information."

  • Gee whiz, Enderle running a consultancy shop of one, tries to explain all with his whining dribble. Little does he realize that the iPhone/iPod Touch are far from ‘sugar water’. Why does he give credit to Microsoft for copying others and who needs a 1 TB server (unless you have a gigantic pirated movie or porn collection)

  • Rob, get your history right. Microsoft didn’t steal from Apple, the both stole from Xerox PARC (and the Xerox Star computer). Both toured PARC and Apple even gave Xerox Apple stock in exchange for its engineering visits. The Apple GUI is just as much a derivitive from Xerox as Window was. (And don’t forget Digital Research’s GEM GUI that was out at that same time too)

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