Friday, 27 April 2007

The cutting edge hurts

Life on the cutting edge can be very exciting, but on it can also be dangerous. There is a reason why the very latest development version of a piece of software is known informally as the "bleeding edge" and a very good reason why software in this state is not recommended for the majority of users because it is considered to be unstable, largely untested and possibly even a risk to the user and her data.

However, the two main computer software operating system developers (i.e. Microsoft and Apple) may disagree with this.

Microsoft recently launched Vista, its next generation operating system and sold twenty million in its first month. Needless to say they declared the launch a huge success, even going so far as to state that it was the most successful launch of any operating system in history. Of course, how many of these sales figures are actually OEM sales is a different story altogether.

Anecdotal evidence about how good Vista is comes from people I know and work with that have it - and its not good. A colleague of mine (who I shall call Mr T) ordered a new laptop recently for his son, but Mr T's son is gutted because Vista will not run iTunes. In addition, another colleague of mine (who I shall call Mad Dog) has had problems with putting his laptop to sleep which is also running Vista - and Mr T has the same issue too. The laptops are totally different models, one is an Acer and one is a Dell, so it wasnt the hardware that was the issue, it was the OS. A workaround for this was found by telling the oS to hibernate, which seems to take longer (i.e. a few seconds) but at least the machine doesnt have to be rebooted every time the lid is closed. These aren't the only issues I've heard about: Mad Dog also told me that his Nokia software suite doesn't work, he has had issues with Flash 8 and so on.

There is more evidence out there that Vista isn't quite the success story that Microsoft would have us believe. The recent news story of how Dell responds to customer feedback by bringing back Windows XP highlights this very issue. On Vista's release, they canned all of their XP machines and sold only PC's with Vista on them. This caused outrage and the internet was awash with unhappy customers, some of them taking their business elsewhere. Now though, eleven thousand responses saying bring back Windows XP has forced them to reverse this decision. People want computers that work, not computers that don't!

At this point I could be facetious and say "just buy a mac, it just works" and in most cases I would be right. But on the other side of the fence, in the mac world, things aren't so rosey either.

The mac recently switched its arcitecture over from the Power PC processors (G4, G5, etc) to Intel. The operating system 10.4 looks the same on either system type, but under the hood is running totally different code. The Intel macs use some software called Rosetta to handle applications that aren't compiled for the new Intel macs and effectively run this in emulation. This has been causing issues for some people on the Content Paradise forums (I would link to them but they require membership) with Poser becoming too slow to use and was recently fixed in Poser 7, which is now compiled to run on the Intel Macs natively. However, this has stuffed up everybody on the older G5 and G4 Power PC processors and this application is now unusable (ie too slow) on these. What a mess!

You might imagine photoshop would be a different story (as its really a flagship Mac package) but no, Photoshop CS 3 is the first universal binary that gives good performance on both system architectures and thats only just come out!

Effectively, in their own ways, Microsoft and Apple are releasing bleeding edge software on the masses without telling them. People are finding out that life on the edge wasn't what they wanted, but it was what they got anyway.

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