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July 17, 2011

One OS to Rule Them All

Next year something very interesting is going to happen; Microsoft will reimagine what the tablet is supposed to be. Up until now every manufacturer has gone with Apple’s original philosophy that these slate devices are glorified smartphones. Whether it’s the Galaxy Tab running Android, the HP TouchPad with WebOS, RIM’s Playbook with QNX onboard, or the iPad, all these devices have been running a mobile operating system that was either developed for smartphones first, or specifically developed for tablets (as is the case with RIM).

Apple set the tone for this market after seeing the failure of various “Windows tablets” that have been around since the early 2000’s. They realized you couldn’t stick a Desktop OS on a touch based device or things got sloppy. Our fingers are too pudgy to deal with the precision driven layout of software like Microsoft Office and styluses are largely unpopular (Steve Job’s famous quote, “If you see a stylus or a task manager, they blew it,” comes to mind). Microsoft has taken this criticism and decided they can maintain the speed, battery life, and elegance that the iPad has spoiled consumers with and also bring in full desktop applications when needed.

Many will laugh at the fact Microsoft has already stated its Windows 8 tablets will run anti-virus software because in the mind of the consumer, this means a sluggish experience. Personally I will reserve my final judgment until I have the product in my hands but let’s just say I will be very impressed if the experience is as fluid and lightweight as the iPad. But if the OS is originally a flop, that doesn’t mean the vision behind unifying the tablet and PC is fundamentally wrong, it just means Microsoft jumped the gun.

Steve Jobs has already made it very clear that eventually Mac OS and iOS will be merged. They have not given a timeline as to when this may occur but unifying your entire platform to one OS has obvious advantages. Apple has been ahead of the industry for almost a decade now in consumer facing products and it looks like Microsoft is trying to beat them to the next “phase.” The idea of having a tablet to read with that can be propped up on a keyboard dock for some Excel action sounds very enticing but the question remains: Will my tablet experience suffer by loading it up with decade’s worth of Windows legacy framework?