Something Old, Something New

Something Old, Something New

Something Old — On April 8, 2014, Microsoft officially ends support for its venerable flagship operating system, Windows XP, and productivity package, Office 2003. To many, this software still defines desktop computing and provides a comforting and reliable platform to perform daily tasks. In retrospect, though, Windows XP’s days were always numbered. The first iPod was released a mere two days after Windows XP, opening the path to mobile devices and forever changing how we interact with electronic devices.

While we are all sad that such a reliable and stable system has reached end of life, it’s time to move on. Windows 7 is a great upgrade, a solid performer in its own right. Other great alternatives are right around the corner.

Something New — Interestingly, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft also releases the newest update to its current desktop operating system. Windows 8.1 Update provides both internal and user interface changes. The internal changes skinnies down the operating system, allowing it to run with 1 GB RAM and 16 GB mass storage. This change facilitates use on lower-end tablet hardware.

The user interface updates continues the trend of making the operating system mouse- and keyboard-friendly. The new functionality is incremental — addition of a power button, new right click behavior, new screen edge behavior — and I do find it more intuitive. (The screen edge stuff is still difficult to use in virtual environments.) Oh, and by the way, if you’re not using a touch screen, this update will boot directly to the desktop. With all that, the big change is still coming. In a future update, Microsoft will introduce a new and improved start menu. (Yea!)

Something Borrowed — In what seemed unthinkable just a few short months ago, Microsoft continues to borrow business strategies from Apple and Google. At its annual build conference, Microsoft announced changes that are nothing short of remarkable (for Microsoft, at least). First of all, the Windows Phone operating system will be provided free to device makers for use on devices of less than nine inches. While this move is somewhat rooted in survival rather than forward thinking, the end result is very positive. Device makers will now have a compelling and competitive alternative to Google’s Android.

More importantly (and more shocking), Microsoft released a significant portion of its .NET Development Environment as open source software. This action marks a complete turnaround from Microsoft’s 20-year battle against open source. The thought process behind this move is simple — if you want developers to create for your platform (see Windows Phone above), then you need to make it easy for the developers to build. The release includes a large number of .NET libraries and Microsoft’s Roslyn compiler for building C# and Visual Basic .NET executables.

Here’s the cool part. The organization chartered to support the open source .NET includes Xamarin, a software company that specializes in building .NET applications for Andriod and iOS. Just think — it was only a short time ago that Microsoft wouldn’t release Office for the iPad because they were afraid it would hurt tablet sales. Now Microsoft is making all the right moves to transform into a true cloud player.

Something Blue — The IBM System/360 was announced 50 years ago this past week. The System/360 was the leading computational platform of its day. In its initial press release, IBM boasted the “System/360 is a single system spanning the performance range of virtually all current IBM computers. It was developed to perform information-handling jobs encompassing all types of applications.”

The entry level system came with 8 Kbytes of RAM and performed 0.0018 MIPS (million instructions per second). The system “scaled up” to 8 Mbytes of RAM and 0.034 MIPS, but only those with deep pockets could afford the top-of-the-line system and it’s $5.5M price tag. (Note that’s in 1964 dollars.)

By comparison, an iPhone 5s has 64 GBytes of RAM and performs about 20,000 MIPS. All for a very affordable $400.

Until next time, I’m off the grid @gregory_a_baker.

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