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How Windows, OS X, and Ubuntu are slowly turning your PC into a smartphone

Brad Chacos | Aug. 22, 2013
All the desktop operating systems are integrating mobile features, but they're using very different methods.

The problem isn't limited to PCs proper. Trying to use the Windows desktop on slates is an exercise in frustration, given the small fonts and even smaller menu buttons of classic desktop software (the millions of programs built with a mouse in mind)."Part of the problem when you use a touch device is, the second you leave Metro, you can't even use touch," says Bajarin.

Some crucial settings and programs work only on the desktop, and some work only in the modern UI. Because of that, Windows 8 has a bad habit of ripping you out of one UI and dropping you into the other—a jarring experience, to say the least.

On the plus side, once you've overcome its substantial learning curve, Windows 8's consistent experience permits you to jump in and use any hardware the OS calls home. (Windows 8.1's usability improvements will help.) And don't forget—the (cough) relatively few (cough) apps available in the Windows Store work just fine across the wide spectrum of Windows 8 devices out there.

In the long term, those benefits may outweigh today's rough patches. But in the short term, Microsoft may be forcing its desktop customers to bite off more than they can comfortably chew.

OS X
On the flip side of the convergence coin is Apple. Given the company's strength in mobile devices, you might think Apple would be rushing to merge iOS and OS X, but thus far it has taken a fairly cautious approach.

The extensive reach of the iPad and iPhone is definitely affecting Macs, but in a much more subtle way. OS X Lion introduced iOS-like elements such as the LaunchPad, the Mac App Store, and full-screen and sandboxed apps. OS X Mountain Lion added a wider range of multitouch gestures, a Notification Center, iCloud, a Messages app that plays nice with iMessages, and some native apps that first appeared on iDevices. The upcoming OS X Mavericks drags Maps and iBooks along for the ride.

These are all baby steps, rather than a single, traumatic, Windows 8-style leap into the new and unproven. And each step of the way, Apple has tried to integrate the iOS features fully into OS X's desktop context, rather than simply forcing a round mobile peg into a square desktop hole. The OS X Notification Center is not a mirror image of the iOS version, for example—though it feels largely the same.

The downside to this approach, of course, is that Apple doesn't have the exact same apps and UI across all hardware, unlike Windows 8. Experts argue that that's a good thing, though.

"[Windows 8] just feels like two drastically different operating systems and two drastically different UI paradigms struggling over the same thing," says Bajarin. "Apple lets a PC be a PC, and a mobile device be a mobile device. Shared similarities and consistencies exist, but they're not breaking the paradigm."

 

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