Jun 20, 2012

Microsoft Surface

Oh look, it’s a laptop/tablet hybrid design.


On Monday, Microsoft had this huge press conference to unveil plans for something they said would be revolutionary and, more to the point, a paradigm shift in computing interfaces. Of course, this is a really loose paraphrase because for all I know they were promising that they’d invented a new way to slice bread.


Over the weekend, millions of people were taking shots at what this amazing revelation could be, while I on the other hand already knew. To be honest, I knew this was coming a year ago so this is yet another case of the future catching up to me instead of the other way around. When I originally said it, I asserted (as I continued to do) that the only way that Windows 8 Metro made any sense at all was if it was married to a hybrid tablet/laptop design and that Microsoft clearly was designing an OS for devices that didn’t exist yet but were anticipating would exist.


Let me introduce to you the beginning of what will be the convergence of computing.


When I say “convergence” what I mean is that for all the times people have told me that tablets and mobile are the future, I just laugh and tell them they’re wrong. It’s not about Tablets or about Mobiles, and it’s not about whether or not PCs in any form are dead. What this is about is hybrid computing environments, as I said last year in the article The Future: Now In Tablet Form







A tablet used as the screen which is detachable from the keyboard? No way!



Last year I asked the question – what if the future is just a scenario where the screen on your laptop is the tablet and it detaches from the base unit to become a mobile device? Well, this is the future… However, that being said, this is only the beginning of that future. The second part of my question/statement was concerning the keyboard section being the more powerful base station while the tablet portion as the screen was the mobile processing computer on the go. When you docked the tablet to the base station the processing would switch over from the tablet to the base station to handle the tasks in a more robust manner.


We’re not quite there yet, but there are clearly prototypes in the works. The base station concept is a logical next step for computer manufacturers at this point instead of just slapping a keyboard on a tablet and calling it a day. At least I really hope so, because it would suck horribly if we were all being forced into a future where we’re paying the same price of an entry laptop and getting half the power and capabilities.


In this scenario, it’s also likely that systems like this would be wirelessly connected to the home computer as a server or something to offset the fact that you’re getting royally screwed on tablet storage. It’s 2012 and I still think cloud computing and storage as it is currently presented is a rip-off, and you can quote me on this freely.



In which Microsoft sells you half the computer and OS for the same price while calling it innovation.



Renting Your Data


I’m not ok with this idea and never have been. For cloud storage services the cost you pay is astronomical in relation to the actual storage space you get in return. At about $50.00 USD per month for 1TB of cloud storage, within 2 months you’ve already paid enough to rent that space to actually have bought an external 1TB hard drive outright.


For instance, let’s take DropBox as an example. On average, 1,000GB of storage is $15.00 USD per user, per month with a maximum amount of users being 500. Let’s say for an average household of 5 people (Mom, Dad and three kids) that’s $75 per month. Right there in the first month you may as well have bought a 1TB external HD and hooked it up to your home network. As a matter of fact, over the life of using cloud storage you would have spent so much money for the convenience of accessing your stuff “everywhere” that it becomes overkill.


Don’t get me wrong, cloud storage and access is going to continue being integrated into nearly everything and you are going to be forced into using it at every turn. For evidence of this, just look at the tablet/laptop hybrid above and ask whether 64GB hard drive is really enough for you?


Of course not.


That’s why Windows 8 conveniently comes with Windows SkyDrive cloud storage for you, where you can rent storage space continuously at a price which may as well be highway robbery. The best part about cloud storage is that there is no guarantee that your data is safe, let alone going to be available. What cloud storage is, and let’s make this clear, is that it is renting space on somebody else’s computer who will gladly “keep it safe” for you for a rental fee that may as well exceed the cost of just buying an external drive altogether. Overall, you may as well be paying a premium to store your own files to the tune of 450x the cost of the hard drive. Of course cloud computing and storage are the big industry when there is a ridiculous amount of money to be made.





Apparently I have $4,500 worth of Cloud Storage in the palm of my hand.



Then there is Google, which also offers Drive cloud storage services and generously gives 5GB freely. I am aware that there are plenty of cloud computing applications that are a benefit to humanity such as GMail, Google Docs, etc… I’m not disputing that at all. What I’m getting at is that cloud storage as it is currently presented seriously bothers me.


My personal thoughts about this are that the security and privacy of your data is about as expectant as you would imagine with say, Facebook. Which is to say, they all talk a big game but likely fall flat on their face in practice. There is nothing to say that the data center doesn’t have a cascade failure, or that the service itself isn’t discontinued after you’ve spent all that time investing in it with your data.


If you think that’s not likely, just ask yourself about Apple and their now defunct MobileMe cloud system that so many people jumped onboard. When Apple moved over to iCloud one of the things that wasn’t included in the transition just happened to be the MobileMe iDisk storage service. Essentially, users are prompted to download all of their data locally to avoid losing it.



What happens to the files on my MobileMe iDisk?


You can continue using MobileMe iDisk through June 30th, 2012, even after moving to iCloud. After June 30th, iDisk will no longer be available. You should save copies of all files stored on iDisk before that date. Please read this article for details.




You wouldn’t think this is a big deal but in the future it likely will be more of a problem when things like this happen. The only reason it’s even feasible right now to follow those directions from Apple about downloading all of your files from iDisk to avoid losing your data is because your local hard drive is actually big enough to handle that… The real question that I’m left asking internally is why the hell didn’t Apple simply migrate iDisk data over to iCloud for their users automatically?


But with tablets and hybrids, the internal storage is intentionally smaller in order to create a need to use these built-in cloud storage options (like iCloud or SkyDrive) so you actually become wholly dependent on it for your main drive.


So let’s fast forward 5 years where your average computer is a tablet hybrid and the internal storage is about 500GB as an SSD. Even under the premise that cloud storage is going to get cheaper, a scenario like the one above where migration or storage failure requires you to back up your stuff locally – you likely aren’t going to have that option since you’ve essentially had no need to have an adequate local storage system and it was so much more compelling and cheaper to buy a tablet with only 128GB internal storage (if you’re lucky).



Files - SkyDrive_1340200137177


April 1997 is when I got my Hotmail account. Now Microsoft just attaches everything to it.



Of course there is the other caveat for this cloud storage paradigm in that it’s only useful if you have wireless internet access. Otherwise, if you’re in a dead zone or don’t have WiFi where you’re at, you’re pretty much screwed out of most of your data.


Cloud storage and applications should be treated as a secondary option, and not your primary option. But unfortunately they are being integrated into the operating systems and devices under the premise of being your primary. That’s what bothers me… well, that and no longer just buying a program but instead indefinitely renting it – which I’ll concede isn’t totally the norm at this point but does seem to be happening with gaming and other media forms (ebooks). You may as well be renting your games indefinitely at this point if you’re paying for a subscription to an online gaming service like Steam, XBox Live, Origin, etc just to be able to play the game you actually bought.


Ten years ago you would have been up in arms about this. You just bought a video game at retail price (let’s say $50), you get home and install it. You fire that bad boy up and find out in order to play it you have to have internet access and the game must be able to check into the server periodically (or all the time) for it to work. The moment you no longer have an internet connection, the game stops working. The moment the publisher’s servers stop working, so does your game. The moment they discontinue their authentication server for your game, your game becomes worthless.


When Square|Enix did Final Fantasy XI Online I immediately stopped playing Final Fantasy games entirely. I understand the interest with online multiplayer gaming, I really do. I’m an avid user of Second Life and also have a Minecraft account. But the art of single player or multiplayer at home is pretty much a dying breed any more. There’s a reason, I suspect, that flash games online are a big ticket for entertainment. It’s because those games are modeled after the simpler games we used to play years ago where they were more about fun than trying to cram graphics. They have to make up the lack of graphics with actual storyline and gameplay.



Less is More?


The idea about all of this is that the future is not as great as we like to believe. If anything, we’re paying about the same price for considerably less than what we’ve had in the past. I’m not talking about less in a good way, either. Like, smaller components or more efficient circuitry…


No, I’m saying less is the new more in the same manner as you’re paying the same amount of money for a thinner tablet that does much less than the laptop you bought a few years ago. Standard on the laptop was a 500GB or 1TB hard drive but on that tablet (even the hybrid) the storage is more likely 32GB, 64GB or for the most expensive model 128GB internal storage for the same price as your laptop a few years ago at 500GB or 1TB internal storage.


To make up for giving you less internal storage, these companies found a solution that essentially screws you even harder than you just got screwed by connecting cloud storage to your device and offering to rent you space for a monthly fee that may as well be 450x the cost of the hard drive over the expected lifespan of that hardware.


Yes, you read that correctly.


If an external 1TB hard drive costs about $100 (which mine did), and the average expected lifespan of that hard drive is about 5 years, then I’ve paid $100 for 1TB of storage that will last 5 years. In comparison, for the equivalent of $75 per month under an average scenario and access to 1TB of cloud storage, I will pay $4,500 over the course of 5 years for the same storage capacity.


Take also into account that the operating system (Windows 8 in this example) is less robust than Windows 7 before it. Metro UI is stripped down and very basic in comparison to Windows 7 working environment. No Aero, no real multitasking… everything is pretty much full screen or not at all with Metro. There’s “legacy” support for applications that ran on Windows 7, so windows like you’re kind of used to… but the focus is entirely on Metro for this. Which brings me to another point that the outlet for Metro enabled applications is a choking point app store controlled tightly by Microsoft. I have the same issues with Apple’s App store as well, so don’t think I’m just harping on Microsoft here.


Even the bootloader is locked down and so is access to the Win32 API which most applications prior enjoyed access to freely in order to develop for Windows. Now the rules (as if there were rules before this) say that win32 API is off limits as well as a whole slew of other design requirements and guidelines to be accepted into the Metro store.


Good Christ… when did this happen?


Not specifically, but as a collective of humanity… when did we start really settling for less and paying more for it? When did we start saying it’s ok to have our options taken away from us and strictly controlled? When did we say it was alright to no longer do with the hardware, software and media we legally bought what we want to do with it?


When did we stop demanding the freedom to innovate on our own?



And then I calm down… sort of.


I have my gripes about all of this, but my assertion is still sound. I’m not interested in owning a tablet until such time as it becomes a full hybrid that isn’t screwing me over. I love the idea of the screen detaching to become a mobile tablet as my secondary computing paradigm – but not at the expense of my primary computing paradigm in the process.


I’m not accepting an either/or scenario.


When my tablet/screen is attached to the base, my “real” computer will take over the processing and power. My real computer then, will be my storage where the mobile tablet screen is underwhelming. My real computer, then, will have the desktop paradigm because it makes absolutely no sense to use a tablet interaction paradigm while I’m using a desktop, no more than it makes any sense whatsoever to use a desktop paradigm on a tablet computer.


Both will have access to my cloud drive which is a secondary backup but never my primary storage. It’ll be convenient for me because I’ll have access to my files on the go, but I won’t be worried about the service because a majority will be locally stored.


Cloud storage to me is a supplementary option that is worth paying for in that context, but never expected to be treated like my primary storage on account of my local system short changing me up front by design.


As far as the operating system goes, I like the freedom to run whatever the hell I want on my computer. I like the idea of multitasking, and by god if I want a media player that looks like a Polar Bear on LSD then so be it.



Bear on LSD


Meet Windows Media Player – Aeonix Edition.




I don’t like the idea of having a central application store being my only option under tight constraints to access programs. So this is what I’m expecting shortly after the release of Windows 8 -


It’s going to get jail-broken in a hurry. That Start Menu button is going to be there whether Microsoft likes it or not on the Desktop view, and if they fight too hard to force people to use the Metro screen instead, then they’ll just be shooting themselves in the foot. The Bootloader will be unlocked, and ultimately with enough people pissed off about this situation, Windows 8 will work the way that advanced users will demand it to work and not the way Microsoft demands it.


Either that or Microsoft is about to lose quite a lot of customers, with or without their new tablet.


It doesn’t help the situation when you aren’t willing to build an operating system that a majority of your customers are asking for. Luckily, that’s what Linux is for.


As a matter of fact – I might just go back to using Ubuntu Linux thanks to Windows 8.







Unlike Windows 8, I’ll have the option to choose whether or not I want to keep the Unity interface of Ubuntu 12.04 or simply go back to using Gnome (Fallback) like I’m used to. That’s the point that I believe Microsoft is entirely missing here… that people don’t necessarily like or hate Metro, but instead they hate being given no option to choose what they think is best for their own working environment.


We’ve had this desktop metaphor since the dawn of the GUI interface in the 1980s. That is a hell of a long time for the computing world to get accustomed to something. Forcing a radical change on people now in 2012 will likely go over about as well as Microsoft BOB or forcing Clippy on people.


Generally speaking, the bottom line is this:


The idea of a hybrid tablet/laptop is a good idea when put into proper perspective. Right now, however, it’s a veritable clusterfsk of half-baked ideas. Without the ability to choose a desktop paradigm that is familiar when using a keyboard and mouse, the Metro UI being forced on people will invariably be a no-go unless they’re using one of those new tablet hybrids.


Essentially it’s an operating system that is trying too hard to please tablet users at the expense of the interaction paradigm over the entire course of personal computing history. While I’m not against change, even if it’s a radical change, I still like the ability to make that choice on my own instead of an all or nothing approach.


Given that the only option is Metro in Windows 8 with the desktop paradigm being an afterthought, I will likely end up exercising my right to choose and skip Windows 8 altogether.


I don’t really care how amazing they claim the tablet with a keyboard is. It’s a revolution I’ll do without, thank-you.


As far as the tablet/hybrid itself:


The disturbing trend has been to build half of a computer and sell it to you at full price, while renting you access to the other half indefinitely for 450 times the actual cost. To the business end of things, this seems like a technology wet dream scenario because they’re making money hand over fist off of this. Even more surprising is that society as a whole (that means you) are gladly falling for it.


Of course, after seeing the first picture in this post, you probably ignored everything that came afterward.















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