In mid–2013 I needed a new computer. Like many others I chose A MacBook Air instead of a Windows laptop.
It wasn’t my first Apple. In 1984 I bought one of the first 128k Macs. There were others.
Yet for twenty years my work had revolved around Microsoft Windows.
A vote against Windows
So why throw away the skills and software investment?
It came down to three reasons.
First, the 2013 MacBook Air’s all day battery. At the time no other laptop came close to this. With care you could eke out 12 hours. The best Windows laptops of the day could manage, perhaps, six hours. And that’s being generous.
Second, the MacBook Air is light and thin without compromising on the keyboard or touchpad. While many rival 2013 laptops were as light and thin, there were compromises.
The third consideration is more complicated. It wasn’t so much that Windows 8 was an annoying, hard-to-use mess. Although that is true.
It was that Microsoft’s misstep opened the door to alternatives in ways earlier Windows upgrades did not.
Moving from Windows 8 was not going to be a wrench.
At around this time Windows 8.1 arrived. It was another dog’s breakfast. Microsoft doubled down the madness.
Windows 8.1 was meant to fix 8. It changed nothing.
The move from Windows 8 to OS X Mountain Lion proved less jarring than the move from Windows 7 to Windows 8. There was no going back.
There could have been going back.
In mid–2013, Microsoft’s first Surface Pro was a promising alternative to the MacBook Air.
True, it was underpowered and overpriced. The first Surface models needed expensive add-on keyboards that are fine for casual use, but painful after hours of touch-typing.
Microsoft’s second generation Surface Pro was better. The keyboard wasn’t perfect but was usable.
Had they arrived a few months earlier, a Surface Pro may have graced my desk instead of the MacBook Air.
This may sound contradictory given the earlier comments about Windows 8. There is a simple explanation.
Windows 8 didn’t make sense on a two-year-old desktop computer. Nor did it make sense on a 2013 Ultrabook. Windows 8 was almost as bad on an ordinary 2013 touch screen PC.
You could see what Microsoft was trying to do with Window 8 when you tried it on a Surface.
Windows 8 still wasn’t great. Yet on a Surface it showed occasional glimpses of logic. There were hints of elegance.
As Apple might say; it just works.
Maybe it doesn’t work well as you’d hope. Yet on a device that acts as both a laptop and a tablet Windows 8 was no longer incoherent.
Coherence isn’t the first word that springs to mind with Windows 10. Yet, for the most part, that’s what distinguishes it from Windows 8.
If you’re using Windows 10 on a laptop without a touch screen, you won’t find yourself accidentally dropping into tablet mode. It acts like a laptop operating system.
A laptop operating system that acts like a laptop operating system shouldn’t be a big deal. But that was the problem with Windows 8. It didn’t act like a laptop operating system or a PC operating system.
Apple operating system
When I chose the MacBook, I turned to Apple for the hardware and stayed for the software.
It took time to warm to OS X.
The first thing I did after taking my new MacBook Air out of its box was install Windows 7.
For a while the MacBook Air was a Windows laptop. It may have been the best Windows possible laptop of the time. The MacBook was snappier, lighter and had longer battery life than anything that came with Windows installed.
Over time I moved to OS X. It was a revelation. Life was easier, work was easier, everything was easier. My productivity soared.
OS X, or macOS as it’s now called, isn’t perfect. It has flaws and annoyances. On the plus side it is robust in ways that Windows never was. You can go months without rebooting. Try doing that with Windows 8.
These days a lot of computing takes place in the browser. You can do almost everything there.
That’s the thinking behind the Google Chromebooks. They use a browser as an operating system. With so much software now being delivered as an online service, operating systems take a back seat.
This is an area where Windows will struggle to recapture its greatness. When everything revolved around operating systems, Microsoft called the shots in the computer industry. Apple carved out a niche.
Now the PC action is all in and around the browser and cloud computing. Today’s main battleground is with phone operating systems.
Microsoft is strong in cloud. It has first class cloud apps, but it lost the plot with phones.
You can still get phones that run Windows 10. Almost no-one buys them. Microsoft has little interest in selling Windows Phones. That may undermine other parts of the business.
In contrast Apple not only has the popular iPhone, but has found ways to integrate the iPhone with its laptop operating system.
It feels like magic when an incoming iPhone call gets the Apple Watch tapping your wrist and a notification appears on the MacBook. You can answer the call or respond to a text message on any of these devices. They act as a coordinated team.
Windows 10 fixes a lot of the Windows 8 problems. It’s the operating system Microsoft should have had in 2013.
The damage from a failed version will echo down the years at Microsoft. And elsewhere. While it isn’t the reason why PC sales plummeted in recent years, the Windows 8 debacle did not help.
Last month Microsoft trumpet that 400 million computers now run Windows 10. It’s an achievement. But let’s not forget in most cases Microsoft gave the software away.
Today it costs more than $100 for an everyday user to buy a Windows 10 upgrade. At that price Microsoft missed $40 billion in revenue.
It’s not just the money. Nor is it the loss of prestige or the distraction. There’s also a loss of momentum. Above all these, there’s the dawning realisation that Windows is no longer centre stage.
Nothing is going to fix that.