Yesterday's post about a concerted effort on Microsoft's part to beautify computers by means of a comprehensive set of design guidelines drew more than 500 comments. Read on for today's Slashback summary which highlights a few of the most interesting reader insights on the project.blamanj summed up many others' comments with this snarky contribution:
Well, they finally realized that nobody's going to buy it because of the operating system.
(Whether that's true or not is up for debate; certainly a lot of people may prefer Vista to Windows XP.)Stavr0 writes
Microsoft wants 'PCs to be objects of pure desire.'
I desire my PC to be pure of spyware, security flaws and instability.
Reader melted was one of the first to dismiss the PC-prettification project as a lost cause:
Those OEMs couldn't "beautify" anything if their life depended on it. If they could, they'd already do so. The best they can do is steal Apple's 3-year-old designs.
Others, too, described Microsoft's aesthetic guidelines as a clear response to the widely hailed industrial design from Apple; reader Dan East offers a compact formulation of that idea:
MS is just trying to grab a few sales away from Apple at the expense of the OEMs. Why not? MS doesn't have anything to lose on this one — the OEMs are the ones taking the risk.
"The Mac isn't a good comparison," though, says reader dada21, who writes
I'm not sure I agree with the "Be like a Mac!" comparison. For most PC manufacturers, having their own "look and feel" has been part of what has given them a strong brand name. Sure, Microsoft wants to grab some of that brand recognition beyond just the bootup splash screen (and the desktop look and feel), but I also think this will create more than just brand recognition for Microsoft — I believe it will also produce an interesting "playing field" for companies beyond the Big Four (Dell, Gateway, HP/Compaq, Toshiba). Consider the smaller OEMs and white box companies — by providing a standardized look and feel, this will open the door of opportunity for many more companies. Sure, the big guys probably don't WANT this (they want to keep their look and feel in order to keep their branding strong), but it could create a new competitive atmosphere by giving smaller companies a foot in the door to compete on the look and feel front.
I've always loved third-party cases and keyboards and monitors moreso than the Big Four for the same reason that I've always liked clones — they've pushed the envelope before the big guys did. The downside is that the clones never seemed to sell well in the corporate environment nor in the newb home environment; the clones were just powerhouse sellers for us geeks. By having Microsoft "dictate" what they want to see, we may actually see more third parties offering competition to the Big Four, which in turn could see prices drop a bit more, which could push more legal Microsoft products into the fray.
All around, there are some Mac-branding similarities, but I don't really think that is Microsoft's desired goal to miMac (mimic the Mac, in my vernacular). I think it is just a good idea that will help the little(r) guys, and still give the big guys a chance to offer different products that the market can choose from.
According to reader linguae, a bit more mimicking might be a good idea:
Macs are worth the price . When I showed my parents and siblings my Mac and fooled around with it for a few days, they fell in love with it. They were sold on buying a Mac, and they are now saving up for a iMac. The problem is that cheaper PCs are good enough for 90% of the market. Windows XP "just works" now (as long as you keep an eye on security), and Vista will be far better than XP (insert "it's a copy of OS X here"; say what you want, but Vista is still better than XP). Perhaps they haven't had exposure to OS X; my parents were sold on the Mac within a few days. Perhaps they still must have a Windows PC for their jobs (and they don't know that Intel Macs can run Windows natively). Or, perhaps that money is an issue for most people.
Reader MojoRilla phrased his response in the form of a "Dear John" letter, writing
A bit more positively, reader meburke points out that "real design considerations" go beyond the shape of the box, and provides links to a few sites which should be of interest to anyone who designs anything at all for others' use:
It seems that you are doing a lot of things lately to tell me what I want out of your products. Vista's new UI, and now these fancy industrial design specs.
Guess what? I couldn't care less what the shape of my PC is. It is under the desk with my UPS, sub woofer and trash can. And I have no need for a fancy new desktop UI, especially one that takes resources away from what I actually want to do with my computer, like photo and video editing.
What I want is excellent software, compatible with open standards, for a reasonable price. You used to deliver this. When you delivered virtual memory and preemptive multitasking, you were ahead of Apple. Now you seem way behind. And also, I want you to support open standards so that I can use other products with others that haven't paid you a licensing fee, such as open source. I'm not a sheep to lock in. Hello Linux and OSX.
And your prices are far from reasonable. The fact that I can't transfer a OEM Windows license from one PC to another is rubbish. The fact that you want $399 for the standard edition of office, which I have paid you for several times over the years is robbery. I was happy with the functionality of office five years ago. Why should I need to buy it again? Hello, Open Office.
I'm not a sheep, Microsoft. You used to be innovative. Now you are all about marketing. Its been fun, but we're breaking up!
As a starting point, I'd like to suggest designers read, "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink, and check out some articles at danpink.com. Furthermore, I suggest visiting IDEO. Pay special attention to their "method card" deck. Lastly (for purposes of this discussion) I suggest visiting mcdonough.com. The common thread in all this is design. William McDonough says that the need for regulation indicates a failure in design.
The design of the product goes way beyond just cosmetics. There is only so much you can do with an enclosure for a PC board, but there is LOTS you can do with the system as a whole. Case modding is just a place to start. Functional design improvements are being made in everything from the input devices to really innovative interfaces.
The IDEO method cards are different from the "Creative Whack Pack" or "Thinkertoys" cards, in that they redefine the product design domain. The jobs of the future are going to be design jobs requiring both high creativity and high technical ability. If someone in India or China can do your job as well and cheaper than you, or if a computer can do your job better and faster, your job is obsolete.
Many thanks to the readers (especially those quoted above) whose comments informed this discussion.