Apple, Microsoft, Google technology stacks – conclusions

Continually jumping between technology stacks feels inefficient. Would it make sense to just pick one and stick with it?

To answer the question I spent a week working exclusively with each of the three main technology stacks: Apple, Microsoft and Google. I wanted to see if this approach improves productivity and whether it is practical or limiting.

Efficient, but…

Each technology stack has its advantages. I’ll write more about that in another post.

The stacks also have common advantages.

Sticking exclusively with one stack means you learn all of its commands, tricks and nuances. Familiarity breeds productivity. As your knowledge of the stack deepens your work becomes faster. Quickly performing complex tasks involving more than one app can be automatic.

While none of the technology stacks are flawlessly integrated, in most cases the quirks and road bumps are easily dealt with.

It’s hard to walk past the efficiency benefits of mastering your tools. You will work better if you stick to just one stack.

So pick and stick with just one stack?

If your technology needs are relatively straightforward and narrow, you should be able to pick one stack, learn it intimately and reap huge productivity gains.

I certainly recommend employers and managers standardise on a single stack in a workplace.

More complex cases

This simple approach will work for most people most of the time.

However, many people have complex needs that may not be fully serviced by a single technology stack. In my testing I found minor limitations with the Apple and Microsoft stacks while the Google stack is much more limiting.

None of this matters for many tasks, but you’d certainly struggle to do creative work like web design if you stayed strictly inside the Google camp. In fact, most creative work means moving across the stack boundaries at times.

Cross stack integration

As I mentioned earlier, none of the stacks are flawless integrated. They all do a good job most of the time.

If I were to put a number on it, I’d give Apple and Google nine out of ten. Microsoft loses an extra point because of the cognitive dissonance of switching between the Windows 8 Metro interface and the older, desktop interface.

Moving between stacks isn’t that much harder. Most apps will copy data from other stacks, although there are still a few glitches.

There are minor problems and inefficiencies moving between stacks. If we stick with the same scale, then on the whole cross stack integration would weigh-in at seven out of ten.

The real benefits of staying in one stack are more to do with learning how everything works than with integration.

Recommended approach

Based on my, admittedly unscientific, experiment, the smartest strategy is to pick a master stack, not an exclusive stack.

Choose one: Apple, Microsoft or Google. Plan a stack strategy. Buy your devices within the same stack. Stay with it when you upgrade. Don’t be tempted to deviate unless you plan to eventually move everything to the new standard.

Use the mainstream apps within the stack, such as iWorks, Office or Google Docs. Master the tools, learn all the tricks. Make working in the stack second nature.

Stick with it as far as is practical, but don’t be frightened of moving outside the stack when you need a different tool to perform a specific task. View your chosen stack as a neighbourhood, not a prison.

Google-only day seven: Living on a cloud

A week working with an Android phone and a ChromeBook tests personal cloud computing as much as Google’s software.

Chromebooks are all about cloud. While they have local storage, ChromeBooks store most documents in Google Drive. Likewise, they don’t store mail messages locally but in Google’s Gmail service — in the cloud.

Mainstream cloud

Cloud computing is no longer strange or exotic. Many of us have used it for a decade. Longer if you consider Hotmail to be cloud.

My Gmail account started in 2004. Not long after I began using Google Docs.

Today I have active cloud accounts on Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox and iCloud. All my work is stored in at least two cloud accounts as well as on A hard drive. There’s little chance of  losing everything at once.

ChromeBook extends cloud

There is nothing unusual about the cloud. With Windows, iOS or OS X, cloud is optional. Cloud is baked-in to Chrome OS. Google designed the operating system around the cloud.

Using a ChromeBook means moving from being a cloud visitor to being a cloud resident. It’s not a big jump.

Most of the time you don’t notice much difference from everyday computing. That changes if you have a poor internet connection or suddenly become untethered from the net. Even then, you can configure ChromeBook to run Google Docs, Gmail and other apps offline.

Cloud safest

Like all cloud computing, if anything goes wrong on one device, being able to pick up from where you left off on another device is powerful and reassuring.

Sure things now work this way with Apple and Microsoft technology – but they are relative newcomers to this style of computing. Google’s software on the other hand was born in the cloud.

Rough edges

Chrome OS has rough edges.

Two of these rough edges are almost too difficult to live with.

First; the local file manager. Most of the time you don’t need it. But if you want to edit a photo before loading it to a web site, you   download a local copy to work with. The file manager is crude and difficult to deal with. Once the storage starts to fill with files, finding an individual file is a challenge.

Much the same happens once you’ve downloaded more than a handful of Chrome OS apps. Often it is not easy to find the one you want.

During a week with the ChromeBook I used many tabs but never had more than one window open.

Android has improved

If Chrome OS isn’t polished, hope is Android shaped. The last time I worked with an Android device, less than a year ago, it still had the same unfinished feel I found in Chrome OS.

At the time Android was clearly a generation behind iOS or Windows Phone. Since then it has sharpened up. The Sony Xperia Z1 I used during my Google technology week uses Android 4.2, there have been two upgrades since and Android is now on 4.4.

While Android 4.2 on the Xperia Z1 is still a less complete experience that iOS 7 or Windows Phone 8, the gap has closed considerably. In particular, there’s now tighter integration between Android and Google’s apps – and, by extension, with Google’s cloud services.

If you own an Android phone and commit to Google’s technology – it doesn’t have to be an exclusive relationship – you’ll find plenty to like and lots to make you productive.

Conclusion

When I started the Google-only week, I was confident I’d able to get my work done. Even so, I worried there might be a productivity hit, or that I would bump against frustrations. In truth there has been less of that than I expected.