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Windows 8, the lack of progress, and the end of the PC era

For the first time, I could have spent a few hours with a Windows 8 computer (although I have played with an emulator of it last year). Well, I had to first-boot someone's new HP laptop and install some basic software and hundreds of Windows and driver updates. It took many hours. Fortunately, no blue screens of death were a part of the experience.

The system starts with the tiles and it's sort of cleaner and I wanted to know whether it would have a WOW effect on me. Sadly, as a long-term Microsoft fan and Windows person, I must say that it didn't. Maybe the decrease of my excitement from the last year is due to my having seen many cool(er) things that tablets and smartphones routinely manage to show.

Windows 8 is a smartphone-inspired coating on top of the almost unchanged Windows desktop – that has nevertheless been stripped of some normal Windows things, apparently with the goal to make the user more annoyed.

In the early 1990s, we would be working with Windows 3.1 and similar systems that "felt" like some graphical application running in MS-DOS. It was OK and we could have done many things in MS-DOS, anyway. But at that time, Apple was ahead of Microsoft in the windows experience. Windows 3.1 didn't look "substantially" different from a 1984 version of Mac OS.

This changed with Windows 95 around 1995 – for the first time, one could really feel that this was a new, better Windows experience in which you could actually rely on the windows that were running underneath everything and just worked. Well, internally, this was only the case for Windows NT but I don't want to go into details. Windows 2000 looked like an improvement, too.

Windows XP was released in 2001, two weeks prior to the 9/11 events, and it arguably improved everything, especially the user experience. All the windows were sort of cuter. Critics praised it and it was a success. Nevertheless, I would already say that the progress was slower than what one could have expected from 6 years of work in a major software company.

Windows Vista came another 6 years later, in 2007, and the slow progress seemed even more self-evident to me. This is highlighted by the fact that I would consider Windows Aero – the transparent glass effects of the windows' upper bars – to be the most memorable improvement. It's cool but it's not comparable to the salaries of top programmers for 6 years.

Already with Windows Vista, I was feeling that the progress was going "sideways" – it was orthogonal to what one could consider a "clear improvement". You expect the new operating systems to be "better descendants" of their ancestors. Windows Vista always sounded like a brother or nephew or something like that relatively to Windows XP. All the changes were pretty much equally likely to be viewed as advantages as disadvantages. Many of them looked like "a change just for the sake of change".

The same "uncle" comments apply to Windows 7 released in 2009 – but I am satisfied with Windows 7, just to be sure.

In some sense, Windows 8 is trying to respond to the smartphone-and-tablet revolution but I share the doubts with many people on whether or not Windows as a paradigm may survive in this way. The tablets and smartphones mostly use iOS or Android (Nokia Lumia, now owned by Microsoft, is the only credible Windows-based line of smartphones) and those have been designed as "limited" operating systems with a reduced number of functions for quite some time. As the performance of the microprocessors was going up, all the usual tasks we used to associate with the PC might have been added to the tablets – and smartphones.

Windows has to dig the tunnel from the other side. It started at the most universal computing machines we would have at home and it's trying to make the experience simpler, more intuitive, in the style of the smartphones. But there are many buts.

First of all, Windows 8 looks incoherent. It looks like a combination of two very different operating systems, a union of two different types of apps (the usual Windows desktop apps and the tile apps). This "hybrid" character wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing but given the unavoidability of some tile apps and some desktop apps, the user is effectively forced to learn to think in two ways at the same moment which ruins any possible claims about simplicity.

Now, some features of Windows 7 died, most notably the start button. There perhaps exist arguments to convince you that you can live without it. But that's like proselytizing a user who is not satisfied. There are certain rather complicated procedures that the user has learned to do with older Windows systems and he or she just wants to do "something analogous" with the new Windows system, too. It seems that he has to undergo a whole new course to replace the previous knowledge but at the end, be able to do just the same things as before. It seems to me that the "transition costs" haven't been incorporated into the planning. The Microsoft leaders are perhaps trying to argue with the users how they should think and feel – Microsoft bosses may "force" their employees should think in a certain way if the bosses believe it's a good idea but the users are free (not paid by Microsoft) and they ultimately decide whether they buy a product.

It seems obvious to me that the start button should have been left there, at least as an optional possibility. The same comment applies to other features that were dropped. Windows 8 doesn't naturally allow you to have the Windows Aero glass theme anymore so this "modern look" (a look that was once marketed in this way, and I think that for a good reason) has been reverted again. That's a part of the Windows 8's efforts to be compatible with arbitrarily weak computers – an overreaction to the previous criticisms that the new Windows systems always demanded much more powerful PCs than their predecessors. However, as a choice, Windows Aero should have been allowed. (There is a loophole that allows you to run it, anyway.)

Well, frankly speaking, I don't like the sharp corners of the tiles too much, either. They lack the "calming effect". It's like looking at a needle that may hurt you. I am not going insane about it but quite generally, I prefer designs without sharp corners. On the other hand, the variable/thumbnail content of the tiles is surely a good idea.

At least, I was lucky to find a recipe to close a tile application. You move the cursor to the upper-center position and, while the left button is pressed, drag the cursor down like if you were closing window blinds. It's intuitive but if you don't learn it somewhere, you will probably not discover how to do it.

So Microsoft was recently making changes that were expensive but not necessarily good according to the consumer's opinions. Another totally notorious example is Windows RT. It was very risky to produce a Windows system that isn't compatible with any other windows systems (this is necessitated by different hardware/microprocessors) and indeed, it was a failure. I think that Google – the company that isn't afraid to "retire" its services that were unsuccessful – is already thinking in a more market-like flexible way than Microsoft that just stubbornly continues with Windows RT and will surely waste billions on it instead of admitting that it was a losing idea.

Many of us have Windows PCs at home. They will be around for some time (most of the computers that are already on our desks are likely to survive for 5 more years) and some support may be available, too. But I do tend to agree now that this is already a "dead technology in the pipeline". We will probably be doing an increasing percentage of the usual PC tasks with tablets and smartphones that will mostly run Android and iOS or other systems successfully enough emulating Android and iOS. Those systems are effectively considered "free of charge" (Android has a Linux core so even though "Linux proper" belongs to the dumping ground of the history along with the left-wing movement that once frantically promoted it, and Linux isn't even being listed in recent surveys about the "market share", Android may be viewed as a relative who is turning out to be the ultimate survivor for a decade to come) and they're often better than Windows so if Microsoft will be unable to understand that this has to mean that Windows has to get better and cheaper at the same moment and earn the money by different methods, it's destined to go bust or become a company for a small group of users with a certain nostalgia.

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reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Well, it's pretty unexpected that they'd remove the "aero" look. If they wanted to be compatible with weak computers, even windows 7 has the option to disable the aero look.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Exactly. The turning off could be done automatically if the performance isn't measured to be enough. But this was a visible step forward in graphics...

reader BobSykes said...

What the iPad revealed was that the vast majority of PC/Mac users did not want or need a computer. Largely because they did not create content (other than email), they merely used it. The PC/Mac market will shrink substantially, and eventually only people who create content will have them.

PS. My daughter, who owns a translation company in Germany, recently upgraded her PC to W8, and she hates it with a passion. Among other things, it defaults all your work product to the Cloud rather than you hard drive.

reader ducdorleans said...

everything, including Windows, is subject to the law of diminishing returns ...

I absolutely agree with Lubos as to W8 ... an oldtimer in the neighbourhood bought a new PC, a very expensive VAIO W8 pc with everything on it, but knows very little about PC's ... so he asked me to install it, connect it to the net, and give some explanations ...

I was not impressed ... but then I'm not into "pads" either ... these things are made to be passive users ... while I use the PC to actively type a letter, or a blogpost in Word, or actively do some calculations in Excel ...

so it will be a very long use of W7 over here ...

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right, diminishing returns are everywhere - except that in some cases, they may be diminishing more quickly than in other cases, due to systematic effects. ;-)

Just thinking about buying a tablet. Of course I can't quite imagine how I would be doing PowerPoint presentations, writing blog posts, or translations of books and other articles using these gadgets. One needs an effective enough keyboard aside from the software.

Still, there are many things one is doing with a PC that don't have to be done with a PC, and a tablet on your lap is OK for browsing some trivial pages, reading, e-books, maps (with GPS), and so on. It seems to me that it must be a matter of a year when the serious work will become equally good with tablets, even cheap ones.

reader Carlos said...

Hi Lubos,

Linux has nothing to do with left-wing movements, anybody who thinks so is being naive.

Linux may be a superior OS in many aspects, please do not mix Linux with left-wings. Many companies invest in Linux, eg

and contribute code directly in the kernel

Names like Samsung, Intel, IBM, AMD, Oracle, Google are there. Are they also "dumping ground"?
I think they just know better than you :-)

Just think about it and try to avoid spreading this left-wing misconception about Linux.

I use linux since 1999 and I fortunately know enough to make sure everything I run is just the way I want it to be (I compile things myself if needed). The issues you mention for each new Windows version have no analogue for many Linux users (myself included). So when you refer to Linux as "dumping ground" you may miss the point entirely. The "let's impose this new stuff on everybody" is one example where Linux is much better than Windows, because this issue is almost absent.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sounds similar to experiences around me, too.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Carlos, I don't mean that the technical design of Linux is left-wing. It's just another technology, arguably as apolitical as Windows or iOS. But the social arrangement and economy envisioned in the development of Linux - the contributions by anyone and everyone that aren't account for or privatized - is right from Marx's textbooks.,_to_each_according_to_his_need

Years ago, the left-wing software community would live out of the idea that they're making history by contributing their amateurish contributions to an operating system that belongs to all. It's no longer a relevant way of development and almost no one uses the edits that those people have made. But what you write about the companies is *still* a communist paradigm, albeit in a big scale.

Samsung, Intel, IBM, AMD, Oracle, Google - everyone - contributes to the kernel. Great. But when everyone owns something, no one does. Such a framework suffers from all the flaws of communism because it *is* communism. Your enthusiastic support for "everyone contributes and one even doesn't ask how much and who owns what" suggests that communism is so hard-wired into your thinking that you're not even able to realize that.

I have no trouble with your love for the work for Linux. I've been forced to work with Linux most of my 10 years in the U.S. Academia and it sucked. I remember how excited I was whenever I could leave my Rutgers office with the Linux or Solaris and go to a common computer room with a Windows 2000 machine - with some speakers and usual things, too. ;-) It just happens that my experience is closer to the experience of most users, including the "creative ones", and there's some evidence that your love for Linux is a case of self-imposed masochism.

reader lukelea said...

What are the limitations of Apple's OS X in your view?

reader Michael Gersh said...

Lumo, I believe that your feelings about Linux are a bit out of date. Whatever the philosophical origins of the thing, it is now, functionally, equal to any other windows OS, with the added feature of absolute control being in the hands of the user. That is about as far from a socialist paradigm as you can get. Next time your windows machine starts grinding its hard drive and you have no way to tell what is happening, remember that you can get a system that is not like that - unless you want it to be.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I am no expert - not even an experienced user - in Mac OS X at all! Others may answer of course.

When it comes to me, I could just tell you about the annoying rotating ball of death I encountered in Santa Cruz almost every time I worked with the Mac over there LOL. ;-)

Otherwise I'm a Chrome-only user since the first moment when the beta was released.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, thanks for the ad.

I don't see in what sense user's absolute control over the system is "far from socialism". It sounds more like "do it yourself, screw it yourself", the way how crafts were done in the socialist Czechoslovakia. ;-)

Does the absolute control include a DOS prompt? If it doesn't, then it's not an absolute control from my viewpoint.

reader Carlos said...

Dear Lubos,

You are not correct when you write that nobody profits working with Linux, just take a look at

You write that contributions aren't accounted for, but this is also not true. Every single patch to the Linux kernel (and many other parts of the whole desktop) must be properly signed, anonymous contributions are not allowed. This is not an amateur hobby, you must be really good in order to have a patch accepted. Who writes good code is highly recognized and many companies hire these people. Meritocracy at its best.

This is where you miss the point about progress and profit. If people write good patches for the Linux kernel (or other related projects) they get recognition from their peers (which include highly talented people like Linus Torvalds). With recognition comes job offers etc.

It is similar to the academia, you write good papers and you are recognized and so on. It's almost the same thing, actually. Nobody owns "science" but science makes progress every single day at the arXiv, like the kernel in their "arxiv":

94% of the top500 supercomputers run Linux.

Does that sound like the result of communist amateurs to you?

You wrote that my choice for Linux is "is a case of self-imposed masochism which is ultimately ideologically driven". Wow. My choice for Linux is not based on ideology, it is based on its technical merits and convenience of knowing that the next time I update my distro I won't have the kind of experience that Vista and Windows 8 users had.

Back in 2000 the Linux desktop sucked badly, I used it in my university too and it was ugly etc. So I understand your trauma. But that is not the case nowadays.

reader Luboš Motl said...

OK, it *is* similar to the Academia. I would call the latter a form of communism, too. I don't claim it can't work but the idea that it should be standard for commercial programmers to start with a mass project like Linux sounds strange to me.

reader umpadumpa said...

Dear Luboš,

I totally agree with you when it comes to Linux/Free software when it comes to the standard user and desktop-computers (still I think that politics is not the reason). But I don't share your assessment that this form of development is "no longer a relevant way". There must be a reason why Linux itself is heavily used in all kinds of professional environments like webservers (~30% market share), supercomputers(~95%), US Department of Defense, etc. And there is more than plenty "amateur code".

Also many internet applications you use every day run on open source software. Websites like google, facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. heavily rely on software under GPL-compatible licence. (I use this example since most people know these sites---I am not even talking about academia)

If you like Windows that's fine, but please don't judge an operating system by an experience made a decade ago. Many things have changed, most to the better in my opinion.


p.s. The idea behind the kernel was never intended to resemble socialism as you put it. If you are interested, I can heartily recommend you the book "Just for fun", but somehow I doubt you are.

p.s.s. Not sure what you mean by DOS prompt, but any *nix system is by default equipped with a command-shell far more powerful than the command prompt shipped with any Windows system.

Your last point is actually spot on, but except for some problems with Microsoft Office formats (which should be shared with other people for quite different reasons) I have never run into any problems.

reader Carlos said...

DOS prompt? What about being able to modify the code of the "DOS prompt" itself?

There is nothing you can't do with the software of your own Linux computer.

reader Douglas said...

Stardock has software to make W8 look and act more like W7. See

reader Luboš Motl said...

I just wanted to say that I find DOS and machine code in COM/EXE files to be the most natural way to control i386 machines at a low level and this way of controlling them is clearly not a part of Linux in any sense.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Interesting! ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, I think that the #1 reason why it's still used is the same reason why FORTRAN code is still used in many portions of physics - inertia. Switching to a more modern framework would mean to retype everything, test it again etc., so people are OK to continue in the old ways even though they know it's not making the new work natural or efficient.

The #2 reason is that the activities done by web servers are ultimately very simple and mechanistic and predictable and following some prescribed protocols and standards, so there's very limited room for evolution. Again, if a Linux machine has been tested for such limited applications, it's easier to keep it than to try something else. At any rate, the servers aren't the most commercially important part of the industry. In most cases, they're just almost free solutions that companies internally choose in order to do some other things that generate profit.

Again, I didn't say that the kernel is socialism. I said that the volunteer-based free and open source programming is a communist format to organize human work.

reader Eugene S said...

... webservers (~30% market share), supercomputers(~95%) ...
And that's where it will stay, forever. On the desktop? Let me tell you my Linux experience. I have done three installs.

First install: Ubuntu on a friend's computer who had a pirated, non-updateable copy of XP. It worked, sort of. But it took many, many hours scouring the web for answers to various questions that would suddenly appear at various stages. Most things she wants to do, she can do now... after I nearly tore my hear out trying to find why something did not work as expected.

Second install: my own old XP machine. Ubuntu completely wrecked my entire XP installation. Unrecoverable. Advice given by the "experts" at AskUbuntu was useless. Then they got snippy with me when I insisted on being helped. Cost me many hours to format hard disk, reinstall XP, install updates via sluggish internet connection, restore backed-up data, tweak settings etc. When I posted my experience to the weblog of a Ubuntu developer who had specifically asked people to describe their Ubuntu experiences, it was summarily deleted. I discovered that many times the Linux geeks instead of being helpful came back with "You are doing it wrong", "I can't imagine more than five percent of users wanting what you want to do", "Fix it yourself", "Why are you ingrate complaining, you never paid any money."

Third install: this time, tried Linux Mint. During the install, would not recognize my keyboard. I repeat, it would not recognize my keyboard. Unable to type even a single letter. I got disgusted and chucked Linux forever, or until I see credible evidence that it's ready for prime time on the desktop.

reader Carlos said...

No Lubos, I think you are confusing Linus Torvalds with Richard Stallman. Stallman is the "communist" and I don't agree with most things he says and I think he's a fanatic.

Linus is just the programmer who started to code the Linux kernel and he is a highly talented pragmatic person and "in charge" of the kernel. It is true what you write about Unix and Linus agrees with you too. Linux is Linus + Unix :-)

He doesn't claim to have invented anything, there's no need to reinvent the wheel, he says. Linux is the evolution of the Unix tradition.

Btw, I despise communism and left-wing movements as much as you do. So that's why I felt compelled to tell you that your visions about open source are misguided and they don't reflect the situation nowadays.

I prefer Linux over Windows because I used both and I think that Linux allows me to use my potential to control my machine the way I want.

Google's Android uses the linux kernel exactly because of that too. And they make a lot of money with it and the mobile market has made progress because of that. See? That's not lazy communism. The fact that Linux is open allowed companies to build on top of it and that led to progress.

Another thing, Knuth is awesome and I use his plain TeX everyday. TeX is also open source, btw. If it wasn't I bet it wouldn't be as successful as it is. For example, LaTeX was based on it, as well as XeTex, ConText etc.

So your Knuth example also shows that a lot of progress can be achieved when the source code is available (some people argue that more progress is obtained this way), exactly as the Android situation.

This is definitely not a lazy socialism kind of thing, it is simply a different approach to make progress.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, Eugene, my compassion. Been there. ;-)

Drivers and similar hardware problems may be almost lethal.

In Windows, one may get a blue screen and I've gotten it 100 times because of various experiments. But one has a hope that it may be done right. With some *ix systems, one may be completely lost for most devices, even elementary ones.

The PackardBell laptop I am using now has an annoying hassle with the drivers because of the dual/switchable graphics card. It has both Intel and AMD. Consequently, AMD, Intel, and Packard Bell "share" the responsibility for providing the users with valid drivers that don't fight against each other etc. The result of this communist situation with shared responsibilities and shared assets is, of course, that no new drivers are being published.

So I actually run a Russian volunteer's drivers which are almost new

and combine the Intel and AMD new drivers so that it doesn't crash and everything is sort of new. ;-)

So I thank to a volunteer but the primary reason why someone has to solve it externally is the lack of clear association of the assets, responsibilities, and profit. Socialism doesn't work.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, I've only heard the name of Richard Stallman a few times in my life so I am surely not confusing anyone.

For you, these two men are ingenious programmer and communist, for me it is a communist average programmer and a psychopath.

reader m said...

Indeed, there exists servers which are 7 or 10 years old with a classic Unix or some variant, and nobody wants to update or change anything because it is still *working*. In fact, for a server, what is important is that its working. Now, in personal computers, people want to try a lot of new experiences, download new apps and etc. And the huge part of good (that is, COMMERCIAL) software is developed for Windows/MacOS, the Linux's fanboys like it or not.

reader Shannon said...

It's a bit like if we were forced to eat insects (grasshoppers, scorpions, spiders, worms, ants...) because it is supposed to be the future of food... yuk.

reader m said...

1. I do not believe that academicians, for instance, will stop using PC or at least laptops because its better to write papers for instance; so Windows-like environment can still survive, but to a restrict public OR to older people, since they are like old dogs and have same natural difficult to learn "new tricks".

2. I used Linux for 3 stupid and sad years (in a kind of teenage rebellion), and I never pretend to use it again, at least in home. Its sad that Brazil is becoming a mix of socialism, communism, "chavism" and etc. because of more than a decade of a hardcore left-wing party in power. So the number of computers with Linux in Academia here is growing frighteningly; and worse, it is not because of economy only, but because the idiots really believe that it will be better this way.

3. Now, what makes Linux *more* communist than BSD-like software is that in the latter, one can actually close the source code, like Apple did more or less in the Darwin kernel. In the former, because of the highly left-wing GPL licensing, the code must always remains open. So that is how the Linux community will always be a socialist movement: a company can never change the code, improve it and profit alone. If this is not communist, and do not know what is!

reader Michael Gersh said...

In today's world there is a very good reason to use open source software, and that is personal privacy. If you care to encrypt anything or ever keep some communications or web surfing private, the recent revelations reveal that the super state is putting backdoors in commercial software. This is almost impossible to do so if source code is freely shared and personally compiled.

Or maybe you have no secrets to share. Or just don't care. Or maybe this stuff is just too difficult to do.

None of which applies to you Lumo. Not trying to convince you (you seem pretty well dug in on this subject) just trying to stimulate thought. ;-)

reader m said...

This seems at first to be a good argument. Indeed, many people in Brazil is concerned with this exactly because of our fellows Americans spying our president. I would be grateful if the US-Gov. could share with us what they find out about our Working Party in order to boycott the elections next year. If they win, I will be really concerned with our future.

Anyway, it is possible in principle to hide some code in a free software with millions of lines. And there exists tests in which one can analyze the behavior of some closed source-code in a network and compare if the kind of data (or even the size) is compatible with what the software must do. Of course that it is not obvious because of cryp.

reader charris208 said...

Next, we will be instructed that Latex, GCC, LLVM, WebKit, git, and Python are socialist garbage and Eric Raymond is a communist ;)

reader Larsson Per said...

Well, ok, sorry to disagree, I like LInux and I use Ubuntu on my desktop, (and I use it now).

Installed it some almost 2 years ago over a windows pc.

It worked perfectly well (I still can boot windows, (but what for?) and when I did, and windows started to prompt me with all the updates and messages I realized how happy I am without it.

I would not change "my Linux" for any windows or iOS.
You may want to try SUSE, had fun with it too...

reader SteveBrooklineMA said...

Thanks Luke, I didn't know about the two finger touch. I never understood the absence of right click either. Now, if someone brings back "focus follows mouse without auto-raise" I will be happy.

reader Hairdo said...

Wow! This blog is usually terrible but I actually really liked this entry. You should do more blog
entries like this!

reader bwbeeman said...

Windows 8 is a good bridge between the legacy desktop paradigm systems and the touch screen world. I use W8 on my quad-core desktop, and am pleased with the performance. With two monitors, I get a toolbar on each monitor instead of just one monitor. Maybe not a big deal with some, but I think is it cool.

I don't know if W8 will ultimately successful, but I really like the system. I like it so much that when I bought a tablet, I got a Surface RT. At the price, it is a good deal and works fine.

For some reason people talk about the start button, not realizing that you get an entire start screen with W8. It works for me.

reader johnl said...

Since System X, you can launch a UNIX shell on your Mac.

reader Parag Dixit said...

i Lubos - I had a couple of QM related questions (on some older blog posts of yours) that I wanted to ask you and was wondering if there is an email address I can send them to.


reader James Gallagher said...

By 'under-the-lid' advanced stuff Lubos means Dos. Who needs sed and awk when you've got FIND.

With Windows 8, the masses are getting what they want. The majority just want buttons for apps. Same with cars, people don't want to be fiddling with the engine - you pay a mechanic to do that.

That's what market forces bring you - simplicity for the majority. So stop being so snobbish Lubos - just because you are a dos fan don't mean average joe wants to be TYPING commands.

btw I can't upvote (or downvote) anyone for some reason - which is a shame since there are some deserving comments on this thread.

reader Smoking Frog said...

That's what market forces bring you - simplicity for the majority. So stop being so snobbish Lubos - just because you are a dos fan don't mean average joe wants to be TYPING commands.

That has nothing to do with whether a system should have a command-line interface. In Windows and OS X, at least, which do have it, it is not something whose elimination would significantly reduce the cost of developing the system. Indeed, eliminating it would increase the cost, since the developers use it, and pretty much must do so. (This includes both the original system developers and the developers of apps etc.) It doesn't matter to Average Joe whether something exists which he won't use, so long as it is not staring him in the face.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Smoking Frog and especially James here, quite on the contrary, as I made clear at many points, I do like the simplicity here and the low needs to learn something new - much like the majority.

In this perspective, Windows 8 is good enough but not too good.

I mentioned DOS prompt as a part of what I consider a part of the "complete control over a PC", not something I want to use often. I am not using shells of any kind 99.9% of my time behind the PC. But they sometimes help to do something - create links for directories I need, run an unusual service, list files in a way that can be dealt with, and so on.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Yes, they "sometimes help to do something," and sometimes the help is an enormous advantage over trying to work exclusively with the GUI. James spoke as if they were a costly extra and/or something which would be right in front of Average Joe and confuse him. I would be surprised to see a GUI system for which a CLI was a costly extra.

reader Smoking Frog said...

BTW, naturally, I don't use the CLI just for the fun of it - I like simplicity, too - and I wasn't purporting to speak for you anyway. It's just that James seemed not to know what he was talking about.

reader James Gallagher said...

"I would be surprised to see a GUI system for which a CLI would be a costly extra"

erm, how about the two most popular GUIs on the planet Android and iOS?

reader Mephisto said...

It´s bull#### that Linux is left-wing. It is right-wing
I like Linux because it is immensely customizable. You can completely decide what you want and what you don´t want. I prefer minimalistic designs (as little GUI as possible). Shell scripting is probably the strongest feature in Linux and one of the main reasons why it is prefered by programmers. The strongest feature is the programming of pipes - you can give data to one programm and by means of a pipe forward it to another programm and direct the output where you will by means of one-line command.
I do a lot of computationally very intensive data analysis. I can script the Linux shell to take images, process them in one programm, then pass to another. So I can build data processing pipelines. I let the pipeline run on server overnight and collect results the next day. Some programs run on Linux only (Freesurfer - a neuroimaging program I am using). Most servers run on Linux, most universities run on Linux. CERN and Fermilab run on Linux and created their own distro
Windows and OS X are for lamers, haha :-)

reader Smoking Frog said...

There's a *ix shell for at least one of those two.

Maybe I'm out of date, but I don't even see how a GUI system could be created without an underlying CLI-suitable system.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Both Android and iOS have shells, and I see a web page that says the Android shell is "built in."

reader Smoking Frog said...

Yes, pipes are a very good example of the utility of the command-line interface. I'm not sure I share your minimalism, though. GUI is fine with me when I'm in "average Joe" mode, and even just a little bit when I'm not. As a real old-timer - I began programming in the 1960s - I should hate GUI, and I did hate it for some years, but that ended nearly 20 years ago.

reader Smoking Frog said...

When I was 10, I was dreaming about controlling every instruction of my
C64 and, for example, every motion of my printer that was doing useless
motion. I've grown out of it. Motion of a printer is a sequence of
stupid activities and if one got reduced to their level, it would be
bad. ;-)

If you narrow it down to the motion of a simple printer, sure, it would be stupid to spend one's life at it. But, in general, the use of assembler code and OS services is sort of like auto mechanics, cabinet-making, and what have you, and more than that - I've written some sophisticated stuff in assembler. Believe me, Lubos, in "mainstream" data processing, the ones who don't know the low-level stuff are the stupid ones. Many of them don't even know the high-level stuff to any degree worth talking about. I know your IQ is probably 300 or something ;-), but for those of us who are only 150 ... I like that sentence, but I can't think of a good way to complete it ... :-)

reader James Gallagher said...

Nope, not without illegal hacks to the system.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Even when one uses these things rarely, as Smoking Frog says, it diminishes the value of a computer/gadget for someone who is ready to learn such things if those things are made totally impossible.

Somehow I missed that part before. Sorry!

reader scooby said...

Windows has a very powerful scripting environment (including pipes). It's called Powershell.

reader James Gallagher said...

lol. So I guess DOS is "Weakshell".

Of course, you can just install cygwin and a get a proper command lie, a bash shell - they should rename it "Supershell"or similar

reader redc said...

It was said that with Microsoft and Windows you could skip every 2nd release of the operating system.

With Windows 8 it's now 2 out of 3 you can skip.

reader mrkwong said...

It's production versus consumption.

Right now the phones-n-pads are very good as consumption devices. That is, of course, what the vendors want. But they suck as production devices. Okay, you can post a pic to your Facebook page, but even composing an email or blog comment longer than a sentence is a painful experience and God forbid you should want to draft up and spit out a 3D solid model for some'd literally be like assembling a 787 with tweezers through a keyhole.

What the phone people have gotten right is the communication and integration pieces. Google Chromecast being a pretty good example. They're full of sensors and radios, they make great controllers and peripherals for other things.

And this is where the desktop as currently constituted kinda falls down, and where it needs to go. It's not so much that there's a future in 'desktops' - the 'home desktop' is gradually becoming an offshoot of the 'home theater', and I can see specialized 'home theaters' and 'industrial theaters' for producing stuff.

But what's the right model? Do you want to be grabbing a 3D hologram in midair and tugging, poking, stretching its features by fingertip?

Or do we humans need to feel a tool in our hand, do we need to have that physical 00 paintbrush in our hand to add that one last little line to the iris of the third woman from the left of our painting, which just happens to be scaled up to fill our living room so we can literally walk around inside of it?

Would CAD and component design change fundamentally if we could pick up and stretch the visualization of some random 40mm-long fastener until it was a meter long and hovering over your desk?

reader mrkwong said...

The problem from Microsoft's perspective is that every now and then they get one right.

They got XP right, so they tried too hard on Vista to make it different so that people would have a reason to change.

They got Win7 right, then someone decided 'well, we've got to try to get a chunk of the phone business back' and tried to turn the desktop into a phone.

They've got to look at the kinds of things that desktops are good at, and what people want to do. It's gonna mean a lot more work on UIs and networked/meshed devices, for graphics/video/music/CAD the keyboard/mouse/pen-tablet have kinda hit their limit.

reader scooby said...

Perhaps you should learn Powershell and get a clue James.

reader Larsson Per said...

ROFL, I disagree again Eugene.

I disagree to the way you present LInux and the way you understand its usage.

It is free software.
If you need support, and you obviously do, then buy yourself that.

Or buy yourself another software with support. There is no free beer.

It is your pc and you put there the software you buy and get the support you pay for.
You want free software and free service and you rant about not getting it?

reader James Gallagher said...

damn, at least two sessions and I missed the clue, what was it?

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Oh no, spam on TRF!!!

reader Luboš Motl said...

How does this spam work if it contains no hyperlinks?

reader James Gallagher said...

I've tried with Adblock disabled but still no luck. I even tried to vote as a guest in Google Chrome from Windows but still the votes disappear when I refresh the browser. Maybe my IP got on some spam blacklist - but that doesn't explain why I can vote on other sites - unless disqus is applying policies different to each site.

reader Larsson Per said...

Dear Lubos,

The employees do not know and do not care if the database or the file share sits on a Linux or a windows server.

The company pays for maintenance and the decision where to host the application depends on stability and costs.

reader Larsson Per said...


I do not say you did something wrong. I do not know what you did.

Believe me, I am happy for you to pay the 80$ set up windows and save your data on the cloud.
And if something goes wrong you can rely on the work and help of the thousand developers etc etc. from Redmond.

I do value my time a lot more then you suppose and when I compare the time spend on "my Linux" with supporting other windows pc in the family am certainly much more efficient with Linux, but this may be again my particular experience.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Well, it has the structure of spam. They don't need to be advertising anything. They may just want to cause harm.

reader Gary Mount said...

A new Windows called Windows 8.1 is coming out on October 17/18. This is a free update to Windows 8.
I am a software developer for Windows, and have been for a couple of decades now. There are a lot of improvements to Windows under the hood that the typical user is unaware of. For example a security initiative took place during the Windows XP service pack 3 era whereupon a complete source code review for security vulnerabilities took place which took 2 years of the Windows developers time, delaying the development of Vista.
Also during the development of Vista, a redo took place which caused additional years of delay to finish it but it did set up the conditions for Windows 7 to be such a success. In other words, Without Vista, Windows 7 would not have been.

reader TomVonk said...

I would like to comment on the "PC is dying" bit.
There is a huge hundred billions $ worth market segment solidly growing - games and specifically on line games.
The turnover for games is now more than the whole movies industry and the gap is growing too.
Now a games customer (and I am one) needs as priority only ONE thing.
A big screen, preferably as big as possible.
Then he also needs a good sound and a sophisticated input device.
Big screen means high resolution graphics and powerfull CPU.
Both mean heat.
The competition for PC on this biggest market segment for indviduals (as opposed to business segments) is of course neither an iPhone nor a tablet.
It is the game console.
Now I will not make a marketing analysis here but just 2 numbers to realize how huge this market is :
- 220 millions americans (2/3 of the population) play computer games.
- 3.5 billions humans (1/2 of the population) play computer games. This number grows strongly as old people of the pre computer generation die and are replaced by the young who are born with a computer. Of course this includes a percentage of (only) Tetris and Black Jack gamers but we won't go more in detail.
Obviously the sophisticated future of gaming moves towards virtual reality and everybody agrees more or less that the hardware necessary for advanced virtual reality can't be an iPhone and probably not a console either.
It is interesting that everybody missed that huge market that shapes both hardware and software requirements on this thread.
Anyway because of that, PCs have a very long life left but they will probably evolve from a generalist tool to a more specialized and sophisticated gaming tool.
Differentiation and natural evolution at its finest.

reader William Reymond said...

With the new Windows at least, we may be seeing the death of the 'desktop' metaphor - and I don't think that's such a good thing. Too much of the OS now has to reside in the users memory. When your interface is the size of your palm there is a real need too keep things out of they way. For a full sized, fully capable desktop machine this seems unwarranted.

I may be old fashioned, but I like to have at least a minimal status bar at the top of the screen, where links to my most important and most commonly used functions are visible and are no more than a single mouse-click away.

I hate the endless scrolling across a logical desktop that is three times bigger than the physical screen. Could you imagine working at a sliding desktop nine feet wide but only three feet of that desktop are actually visible to you? It's a broken paradigm.

I want to be able to drill down quickly though a logical hierarchy of uses rather than having everything spread out over an infinite plane - most of which is over the horizon. It takes less of my memory to remember a logical hierarchy than a million Cartesian addresses.

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