This is probably not going to fly well, me a part-time Anti-Microsoft, full-time Linux user offering his thoughts on the direction of Microsoft Windows. But I just saw some screenies of a Longhorn build, and something occurred to me.
(Bare in mind that I'm trying to be objective -- though I make my pro-Linux stance as apparent as possible.)
Sure, the Longhorn build is only an early pre-alpha and is in no way representative of the final product, the successor to WinXP to be released 2005/2006/2007/whenever-they-damn-well-w
Speaking primarily from a aesthetic, but fundamental point-of-view, the latest Longhorn shows us something about the direction of MS's upcoming OS. Microsoft is going for a look based on ultra-eye candy, smooth as silk, new-car-smell gloss. But in doing so they seem to be further alienating users from the simple, desktop designs that have been the staple of GUIs since GUIs have existed.
Times a-changin'? Maybe not. Longhorn looks more like an overgrown webpage -- similar to what we can see currently XP: ie., file managers feature "hyper-link" like links to other parts of the computer. Those bulky "side bars" from XP are takin' over -- seems like the old simple grey toolbar with a few sparse buttons/icons is out, and colourful, link-tastic, "Click here to Buy [related product]" is very much in. Things are looking less like a GUI and more like an overblown advertisement campaign from a glossy magazine.
Personal preference, you might say. Again, I disagree. Microsoft have always advocated the notion that one day computers will be everyday occurrences in every aspect of our lives, and that they will have to behave naturally, transparently, etc., in order to fit in. Bullshit, I say. In the future (oooh! aaah!), your DVD will talk to you, your telly will surf the net, your phone will call you at work asking stupid questions, your shower will wash you automatically and set the radio to your favourite singin'-in-the-shower station, and your robot dog will shit the floor just like a real dog. Will MS LonghornXP2050 be behind all of these technologies? I hope not. This is embedded OS territory -- leave the embedded market to the embedded market and focus on making the desktop do desktop-things.
Put simply, Microsoft's mythos is extending to the GUI and beyond. This can only mean disaster for the majority of users. Every Windows release seems more and more intent on removing system admin from the user and pushing those functions on the OSs kernel. This is fine and grandma, grandpa and Joe Average -- to be applauded, in fact -- but not so good for anyone with half an idea of how a computer works. The rest of us want to control our desktop, not have it control us. Don't underestimate the number of users with half-a-brain -- Microsoft clearly has, and pretty soon you wont be able to manage your media playlist unless MS approve. "Bad" websites are automatically locked down. Outlook is deleting messages from your mum because it mistook if for spam. Updates and automatically downloading and updating -- your computer is changing every day, and you have no say about it at all. Where's the options menu? Where do I turn it off? You don't.
The kicker is that Joe Average knows now knows even less about how computers work. So when Windows eventually shits itself -- which, between the spam, virus', spyware, bloat and bugs, is only a matter of time -- you have to fork out for someone (like a MS technician) to hit the "reformat" button and start again. Chestnuts such as "I used to walk 30 miles to school when I was a kid" are replaced by "we used to know how to fix our own computer crashes when I was a kid."
MICROSOFT TERMINAL 2005
My early money is on Longhorn allowing you to do even less than XP does currently, all in the interest of simplification. Of course, as much as Grandma and Grandpa love being able to use the computer, even they get frustrated when their WinXP install slows to a crawl and starts randomly crashing because the underlying kernel can't handle admin functions as well as the user. You don't have to be a genius, a prophet, or a sooth-sayer to see this devine this future.
Longhorn is yet to be officially named. I'm thinking "Windows Terminal 2005" might be the best name. Your computer is no longer a computer: it's an obnoxious webpage that lets you see only what's linked, and none of the underlying beauty of your computer. No thanks. Take a cue from Linux, Microsoft: let your users choose between "user friendly" and USER FRIENDLY. (There's a difference.)