Thursday, June 07, 2012

Where's our software going ?

Another from the category of spotting random news stories ...

Ages ago, I read a pertinent story on the Register titled "Windows for Warships". It was written by an axe grinder who was worried we were moving away from "Good Software" into being dominated by Microsoft's latest offerings. There's a lot of hysteria in there that's been proven moot with time. (Especially this one about the UK's systems).

To be fair to Microsoft at the time, they were doing pretty well with Windows. It was moving towards the Unix ideal of a solid microkernel operating system. (Something small at the core with all the bells and whistles bolted on). The NT4 that we used for a while at work was a very solid foundation for what we needed. It's reliable, which puts to bed the main fears of the two early articles. Business in the office doesn't actually need much. The multimedia bells and whistles are Shiny but distract away from actually getting work done. Besides, bells and whistles should come in applications, not in the foundation.

Today, there's another one called "Windows 8: Not even Microsoft thinks businesses will use it" (link supplied to full article). The new one is about Windows 8 and the horror that it could be bringing to us. We've got a preview of that horror with the newer versions of Office. Compared to the old ones, they're just plain Nasty.

I think the problem comes with something called Business Model. I.e. "we've sold people this thing once and it'll work forever. how are we going to make money in 5 years ?" Normally, that repeat business comes from stuff wearing out or something better coming along. Now it comes from a cycle that comes round every few years where we're required to upgrade in order to use the latest hardware or software :

Windows 98 - couldn't install this on a PCI Express machine
Battlefield 3 and other Directx 10 games - won't run on Windows XP

My latest machine runs Windows 7 purely because it was needed for Battlefield 3 (plus it was available and Vista and XP were not). Trouble is, it also feeds a very vicious hardware upgrade cycle too :

Dos + Windows 3.11 - was happy on my first 4MB machine
Windows 98 - think this was ok on 16MB
NT4 - was happy in 32-64MB
Now ? This Windows 7 laptop is currently using 1.8GB (with Firefox, Outlook, Messenger and iTunes open). It needs 2GB as a bare minimum, preferably 3GB or more to run smooth.

Every iteration of software we get is more bloated than the one before. Much of the functionality is unnecessary too. The machines we used at work 5 years ago are smoother than the ones we use now and don't suffer the same lunchtime slowdown (it's when they fire off the virus checker).

You have to wonder where Microsoft are intending to go with their software. They seem bent on evolving it towards software that deliberately interferes with what the user wants it to do instead of seamlessly enabling it. That's what an operating system like Windows should do - it's there to enable, not to disrupt.

I suspect the day is coming when the users rise up against their oppressive masters in revolt and burn down the very foundations of society.

Cough ... wrong speech - oops.

There's alternatives out there - Apple have their OS X but to buy into that requires huge cash (plus their quality is slipping) or the dubious legality of Hackintoshing. Linux and its plethora of free software is looking like a more and more attractive option. I suspect Windows 7 will be the last Microsoft platform I build a machine around but it depends on :

Software compatibility - a lot of games don't run well on Linux
Lockouts - I can easily see Microsoft pulling the Directx thing again

Hackintoshing - To be honest, I'd prefer Linux here. OS X and Linux are both built around the same foundation (Unix). However, OS X is subject to Apple's lockdown policy. Linux is far more open. If it's a choice between an illegal install of an unnecessarily locked down platform and a freely available open platform, I'll choose Linux.

But that's a while off yet. My current machines will last me ages so it's a while until I'll renew my flirtation with alternative operating systems.

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