What Microsoft Can Learn From Mac OS X Lion

This article makes a point which has been on the mind of Windows and Mac users for quite some time: namely, that Microsoft ought to stop selling so many versions of its OS. It’s confusing, it’s expensive, and from my point of view, underhanded.

What Microsoft Can Learn From Mac OS X Lion

They should take a cue from Apple, which has only two versions of its OS: its consumer version (for desktops and laptops), and its server version.

With OS X Lion, it looks like they’ll simplify things even more. It may ship with only one version, allowing those who want the server version to activate the server components as an add-on. Cheers for that!

Another point of contention for me is the ridiculous price difference between Windows and OS X. Windows can cost upwards of $300-500, depending on the version you choose, while OS X is just $129. Windows OS upgrades can cost anywhere from $200-300 dollars or more, while OS X upgrades are just $29.

The price difference is incredible, and I can’t help feeling cheated whenever I need to shell out that much money for a Windows license. What am I really getting in return, when I compare their OS with the Mac experience?

Every time I boot up the Windows XP virt…

Every time I boot up the Windows XP virtual machine on my Mac, I waste at least half an hour with stupid Windows “critical updates”, not to mention Windows Live One Care updates. My computer is always “at risk”. Windows seems intent on wasting my time, every time I use it.

Is it any wonder there's computer piracy in Romania?

If the US and other Western countries are looking at Romania and shaking their heads while wondering why there’s so much computer piracy there, perhaps this will help them get the picture.

In 2008, the median monthly salary in Romania was €285, or $353, as another source quotes it. The same source says that by 2014, the median salary will grow to $1,400, but that’s another story. I’ve heard a number of such predictions in previous years, none of which have yet come true.

Let’s look at Microsoft Windows, probably the most pirated piece of software in Romania. Vista Home Basic, which is really just XP dolled up a bit, is 325 RON, or around $101. The decent version of Vista, Home Premium, is 434 RON. When you convert the median monthly salary to RON, the Romanian currency, it comes out to about 1,120 RON.

Now, when you keep in mind that most people make less than 1,120 RON per month, do you think they’d give up a third of their gross monthly income (before taxes) so they can buy an operating system legally? Would you do it?

Say you made $40,000 per year in the US. Wikipedia says the median income for men in 2007 was roughly $45,000, and the median income for women in 2007 was roughly $35,000. If we use $40,000 as an example, that works out to $3,333 before taxes. If Windows Vista cost you a third of that monthly income, or $1,111, would you pay full price to get it?

Don’t think only software costs this much in Romania. I have on my desk right now two inkjet cartridges from HP, one color, one black. The black ink cartridge, a 338 Vivera, cost 67.75 RON, and the color cartridge, a 342 Vivera, cost 73.05 RON. Those prices are in line with what these cartridges cost in the US, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?

People in Romania don’t make the same salaries as people in the US or in Western Europe. Since the 1990s, prices in Romania have risen to match those in Western Europe, yet salaries have risen at a much, much slower pace. Romanians have to contend with paying Western European prices for food, clothing, utilities and fuel, yet they make a mere pittance compared to their European counterparts. It’s simply not fair.

When you have to decide between buying food or paying all your utility bills in the winter, or when you can’t buy adequate clothes or shoes because you have to pay your rent and other expenses, paying for software is the least of your worries. I for one don’t blame Romanians one bit for using pirated software. Considering the amount of money they’re making, I completely understand why they turn to cheaper solutions.

UbuntuDo you know what I advise my Romanian friends and family when they come to me for help? I tell them to use Ubuntu. It’s free and it’s legal. I’ven even installed Ubuntu recently on two computers, one for family and one for an acquaintance. So far, the reaction was positive. They’ve been able to work with their Office documents on Ubuntu thanks to Open Office, and they’ve been able to view and play their photos and movies as well. For most people, the Linux platform is the way to go, especially when you consider that they can’t afford to get the faster and more expensive hardware that’s needed to run Windows Vista.

Netflix Watch Instantly comes to the Mac

On October 27 (last month), Netflix started testing a new way to stream movies for its Watch Instantly feature. They began using Microsoft’s Silverlight player, which is platform-independent and can still handle the DRM that movie studios love so much. This meant that Mac users were no longer left out of the picture, and could finally watch Netflix streaming movies on their machines.

On October 31, they finished their first round of testing and allowed all Netflix customers to opt into the new feature. They cautioned users that there might still be some bugs and lower-than-expected quality on some movies. I started using the new feature immediately, and after having watched a few movies, here are my impressions:

  • Streaming quality is indeed a bit lower than expected on some movies, and during some scenes. Not sure why, but it’s not prevalent, and will likely be addressed soon.
  • PowerPC Macs are left out of the picture, not due to Netflix, but Microsoft, who have not released a version of Silverlight for PowerPC Macs — I doubt they will, unfortunately. This means our iMac G5, which now works great (after repeated trips to the Apple Store for repairs), will never be able to stream Netflix movies. I think that’s pretty sad.
  • Silverlight doesn’t come with any preference pane for Macs where its various options can be adjusted. This means that unless certain of its built-in options are adjusted “from the factory”, so to speak, your Mac’s screen will go dim and your screensaver will come on while you’re watching a movie on full screen. Your Mac might even go to sleep. Every time the screensaver comes on, Silverlight exits full screen mode. This gets old pretty quickly, as you can imagine, and it’s not ideal by any measurement.
  • Movies cache and play much quicker than before.
  • Netflix will remember where I stopped watching a movie, and will bring me back to that exact point when I log on again and hit play on a title. I watched a portion of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen while logged onto Netflix from Safari, then went to bed; the next day, I logged on through Firefox, clicked on Play, and almost instantly, the movie started playing from the very spot where I’d stopped watching.
  • Did I mention we can watch streaming movies on our Macs, finally? This is incredibly cool!

I couldn’t be happier with Netflix. As a service, I think it’s one of the best business ideas that was ever put into practice. It fulfills a customer need at a reasonable price, and (at least for now), that price includes the ability to watch a LOT of streaming movies at no extra charge. I say “for now” because, let’s face it, there are costs associated with licensing and serving streaming movies (copyrights, hardware, bandwidth, overhead, etc.), and at some point, I think Netflix will have to adjust its prices to reflect this. I don’t think the price changes at that point will be big, but as more and more people start using the Watch Instantly feature, the extra usage will need to be taken into account.

I also believe that long-term, Netflix intends to emphasize its movie streaming service and slowly phase out its DVD mailers. It won’t happen until they can ensure a ubiquitous streaming experience for its customers, and that means flawless streaming for TVs and computers alike. They’ve already made incredible inroads with Roku, Xbox 360, and with Tivo, which can all stream Netflix movies directly to TVs. Now that you can watch streaming movies on both Macs and PCs, things are looking better and better, and Apple TV looks more hamstrung than ever.

Vista SP1 addresses some of my previous frustrations

I’ve had Vista SP1 installed on my machine for a week or so, and I’m pleased (surprised as well) to see that Microsoft addressed some of the issues that have frustrated me in the past. I guess when your expectations are low, any step toward something better is noticeable.

If I sound somewhat bitter, it’s because the SP1 install was problematic. I detailed that ordeal previously (you’re welcome to read it if you’d like). Basically, it had to do with language pack installs, which caused the prep time for the SP1 install to take several days instead of 15-30 minutes.

Once the extra language packs were out of the way, the actual SP1 install itself posed no issues for me. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, but for me, the experience was normal, if somewhat protracted. Once the computer finished the three install steps (2 pre-reboot, 1 post-reboot), my machine was up and running with SP1.

As I began to use it, the first thing I noticed was the correct calculation of the RAM present in my machine (see screenshot above). That was a nice little surprise. I found it frustrating (pre-SP1) when the BIOS said I had 4 GB of RAM, yet Windows could only see 3,069 MB of RAM. It didn’t make sense. Now that’s fixed, although, as Ben Watt points out in this comment, Vista will still not use all of it due to 32-bit limitations.

Boot-up times also seem to have improved. I haven’t done any stopwatch testing, but I don’t find myself sitting around twiddling my thumbs as much when I need to reboot. That’s nice.

More importantly, I am now able to do something which I couldn’t do pre-SP1, even though it was an advertised feature of Vista: back up my machine (see screenshots above). That’s right, before SP1, a full PC backup was impossible. There was a bug that didn’t allow you to go through with that operation in Vista Ultimate. Now that’s no longer the case, and I’m happy to say I completed my first full PC backup this afternoon.

I also understand that Microsoft is now making Vista SP1 available in more languages, which will help reduce the language uninstall times for those people who were unfortunate enough to install the optional (or in my case, required) language packs.

Furthermore, they’re offering free, unlimited SP1 install and compatibility support, which is laudable — but given the fact that one has to jump through hoops to install SP1 — also needed. In my case, I doubt they could have helped. After all, what I needed to do was to uninstall the language packs, and Microsoft made the uninstall process so freakishly long that all I could do was to either stare at the screen, fuming, or take a walk, then come back to find it still going on…

What I do not approve though, is the way they’re trying to get the word out about Vista and SP1. They’re doing it through an internal (leaked?) video that makes me want to pull my eyes out. It’s as if they’ve learned nothing from the Bank of America video debacle. Worse, it’s as if they took that video and did their best to outdo it. They succeeded all right, in a very sad way.

One more reason why Microsoft doesn't get it

At work, I use Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. I tried to install Vista SP1 on my computer yesterday. I created a restore point, just in case something went badly, and started the install. Here’s the error message that I got:

Vista SP1 cannot install

Apparently, Vista SP1 cannot install on my machine, because I’ve got too many language packs installed. Fine, I can understand that. But what I don’t understand is why Microsoft itself kept tagging the extra language packs as “Important Updates”, basically shoving them down my throat and forcing me to install them in the first place. Don’t believe me? Hang on, I’ll give you proof of it below.

I started to remove the language packs, and the uninstall process itself is just horrible. You cannot remove more than one language pack at a time, and it takes at least 10 minutes to do it. Try it yourselves and see. It’s a three-step process. You run the uninstaller from the Control Panel, it takes a few minutes for that, then you’re prompted to reboot, you do so, it takes a few more minutes for the second step, then reboots and runs the third step, which takes the longest. It’s insanely frustrating and a big waste of time. I’m hard-pressed to think Microsoft couldn’t have come up with a better and faster way to install/uninstall language packs.

I had about 7-8 extra languages installed (other than the standard EN/FR/IT/JP). I only did it because Windows wouldn’t quit bugging me to update it by installing the language packs in the first place, and now I find I have to waste more than an hour of my time uninstalling them after having already wasted more than an hour installing them a few months ago. Thanks, Microsoft! Increased productivity my foot…

I uninstalled a few of them yesterday, and here’s the message that I got from Windows after doing that:

Windows Update: Available Updates

See those 5 important updates tagged with yellow, that Windows advises me to install in order to “enhance my computer’s security and performance”. That’s Microsoft-speak for “waste your time and decrease your computer’s performance”. Guess what they are?

Windows Update: Available Updates

As you can see, it’s the very five language packs that I uninstalled. Windows wants me to install them right back, just so I can’t upgrade to SP1. Isn’t that grand? Don’t you just love Microsoft for their obvious programming logic?

That’s exactly the same type of message I kept getting from Windows before I installed the damned things in the first place. I only installed them so Windows would leave me alone. I guess that won’t happen any time soon, because I now see the same “Available Updates” icon in the taskbar, glaring at me, nagging me to install the stupid language packs. Do you see it below? It’s the blue icon with some sort of orange satellite flying around it.

Windows taskbar available updates icon

I only hope Vista SP1 will fix this annoying behavior, but somehow I doubt it. I have a feeling I’m going to have to revert to an earlier system restore point, which would be a real shame, but then again, it would be just what I’d expect from Microsoft.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-26