The old grey bar

I have a secret confession to make. It may shock you. You may start rethinking our past conversations in a new light. You may also sink into denial, call me a hypocrite, call me a liar. That’s ok, but hear me out.

The truth is, I’m a Microsoft fan.

Yes, I know I’m typing this on a Macbook Pro. Yes, I know I’m surrounded by Apple computers, iPads, iPods, and probably soon, an iPhone.

I can understand why you don’t believe me.

But, you see, I worked in the nineties. Back then, we had Netscape 4, an Internet browser so unbelievably atrocious I’m still in therapy for it. In comparison, Internet Explorer 4 was a dream. Five was better, and six more reliable still. Without Internet Explorer, I’m convinced the Internet would still be a hyped-up academic side-project.

And there’s more. Windows 95 was an excellent operating system. It was possible for me, a seventeen year old geek, to run a small office network, build a networked database system and roll out email, all with simple icons and a mouse. Yes, I could’ve done that on OS/2 (which I ran on my home computer for some years), but it was always clear that Windows was to be the future.

Microsoft Word was awesome. And those squiggly-lined spellchecks? Perfect. Excel was and is the only spreadsheet system worth knowing. Google Spreadsheet don’t reinvent this wheel, they copy copy copy.

Windows 2000 and XP followed Windows 95 with bulletproof reliability. You didn’t have to reboot for a week. At least. Once you turned off the stupid green and blue bars, and went back to the familiar windows grey, they were indistinguishable from Windows 95, but for new features (better Internet support), new tools, and more reliability.

I’ve loved Microsoft.  They’ve helped me make a career in computing.  But now I’m a Mac user.

In fact, I’ve recently installed OSX Lion. You know what’s new? Nothing.

Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve got a few changed mouse gestures, a few new icons, and a new icon for maximize, because someone at Apple won’t admit that the existing green plus button doesn’t work.

But you know what? I love it.

Yep, they gave me nothing, I paid very little for it, and I’m chuffed.  And my next computer will be an Apple.

Microsoft had a dream in the nineties, to put a computer in every home. They did that. How cool is it, that they did that? How many corporations achieve a goal like that?

But somewhere along the way, they fell from the path. They stopped promoting PCs, and started selling operating systems. They started selling software.

Suddenly I needed a reason to upgrade my operating system, and a choice of six editions to choose from. I needed more memory, and a new computer, not because I wanted to do more stuff, but because the windows are all sparkly glass.

I was prompted to write this article because I read a blog post from someone who recently switched to a Mac from a PC.  I do feel his pain – it’s actually not an easy switch. I hated it, my wife hated it. But he actually complained that the grey bar at the top looked dated.

And that’s where the marketers listen.  But the truth is, he was still switching to a Mac. He was upgrading to a fast, responsive, reliable experience. A computer you take from the box and feel joy for the next week as you find delightful new features.

But the marketer believes you want a sparkly new spanglebar because you told him you did. It’ll become a priority for launch.

Microsoft shows us that we should stop listening to our customers, and start trusting our skilled, talented designers, where ‘design’ encompasses aesthetics, direction, purpose and technical build. You don’t want a sparkly spanglebar, you want nothing.

Each successive upgrade of the Window taskbar has confused me. The same can be said for the horrible Office ribbon. Both are solutions for problems that simply never existed.

Windows became like that software you get with your printer. It gets in your way, not out of it. But that doesn’t need to be so.

What I’d like to see most from Microsoft is nothing. Chuck out the chintz, fix some big bugs, improve what’s there. Be our rock solid base that others can build great apps on. Show me some PCs of the same quality as my Mac. Tempt me back, I dare you.