Windows 7 – Mediocrity Refined

I didn’t say that. The New York Times did. The article is somewhat ironic to me considering my post a couple of days ago. (Here if you don’t / can’t / won’t scroll down)

I ranted about how Windows 7, like Vista before it, is a claimed ‘improvement’ on the previous version. (I’ll leave you to read my earlier post on what I think of Vista’s success on that front). Neither one is a ‘game-changer’, which in my humble opinion, is something badly needed today.  They way we use computers has changed drastically from 3 years ago, forget a decade. It’s time the paradigm of an OS changed.

The sad thing, the still-dominant (like it or not) player (MS) is unlikely to be the one to do it. As Cringely put it well here over here, MS probably will shrink and focus on enterprise. The signs are already there with the rave reviews on Windows Server 2008, which to me indicates MS’s priorities.

So here’s to hoping the little guys get creative.

Upcoming Posts: My take on Cringely predictions and some cool content on Firefox.

The top 5 things I want to see in the next REAL Windows OS

Unless you’ve been on the beach for the last couple of weeks, Windows 7 is out. in beta. I haven’t downloaded nor tried the damn thing, so I’m giving what I like to call my Wikipedia (i.e – mostly uncited) opinion here.

Now I like Windows XP. really. It’s good. It’s not the second coming of the OS-messiah, but its not shite either. When I first used Vista, my initial (and subsequent) reaction was a decidedly underwhelmed “meh”. Sure it looks nicer, sure it’s supposedly safer on the inside, but so what?

Except maybe the “Instant Search” feature and the backup and recovery capabilites, there isn’t a single thing about vista that makes me really really prefer it to XP.  As a consumer, I have no real merit-based incentive to shift from XP to Vista. End result, I still haven’t upgraded my laptop (which incidentally is more than capable of the murderous resource requirements of Vista) from XP Media Center to Vista Home Premium, even though I have the DVD lying not 2 feet from me.

Now on to Windows 7.  While I haven’t used or seen it yet, obviously, just running through the features and screenshots, I’m getting that very same case of being underwhelmed that I got when I used Vista. Peek? Aero shake? oh please, these are gimmicks just like Windows+tab was in Vista. The only thing that mildly excites me is the federated search. So anyway, Microsoft’s gone and put out yet another “meh” OS.

But we can dream, can we not. So here’s a few small things I’d really really wuv to see in a truly next-generation mass-market (here’s looking at you Microsoft, Apple) OS.

1. Cloud / Media Computing Sub-OSs: 50% of the time on my computer is spent with a dozen+ tabs on mozilla open and IM. Another 20% goes to non-internet based media, mostly watching DVDs. That’s seven-tenths of my time on a computer spent using maybe a half-dozen applications and a fraction of my total computing power (over and above whatever the hell my OS feels like appropriating, of course). I do not want to wait upwards of 5 minutes for my ENTIRE computer to start. Post BIOS boot, give me the option of starting up in the following configurations: a) Cloud computing – Browser and IM, b) Media – Windows Media Center c) Full Boot. Also give me the option to switch from one option to another on demand without any interruption to my work. Example – If I am in full OS, let me “boot-down” to cloud computing in the background while I continue to surf the net.

Now, I know there are other OSs which give you this specific functionality already, but I (and by I, I mean the generic user) shouldn’t need to buy a custom motherboard with an SSD to use it.

2. Click-Anywhere-Search: I mentioned before that I liked and appreciated the “Instant Search” in Vista. It’s a genuine recognition of the fact that the way we use the web has influenced and converged with how we use computers. We don’t remember URLs, we google them. We don’t browse for folders or applications, we just search for them. But why do I need to click on the Vista orb or taskbar to search? I carry my google search around with me on firefox; similarly, let me click anywhere on the desktop and start searching. XP had the Windows Live Search with the monster search bar in the windows task bar which did that, but poorly. It took space and gave me a big ugly confusing window with search results. Let me do something unique like a double right click or something anywhere on the desktop to open the orb+instant-search-bar+compact-start-menu-sized-search-result anywhere on the screen, overlaid on top of applications.

3. Layered Desktops: Leopard did a relatively decent job of the good ole UN*X feature of multiple desktops. We have more than enough computing power in a personal computer to run dozens of applications at once. What we still lack is the ‘space’ on screen to easily manage it. I don’t open 50 windows on my desktop since its difficult to manage that many with alt-tab. Multiple desktops / spaces on OSX did some to help manage that, but I’m thinking of the next step up from that. I like to call this layered desktops. Think tom cruise in minority report “orchestrating” the screen. Imagine your computer like a deck of cards, where you just click-drag a box on your desktop (or something) to make a new card or layer. You can assign different applications to different layers. You push layers to the background, pull them to the forground, slide them off-screen, tilt them from a corner to expose layers underneath, throw away (or close) layers, and maybe even roll them up (aka minimize all in apps in the layers).  OSs will probably need to go significantly multitouch to truly realize the potential of something like this.

4. Really hardcore processor / ram management: I want to allocate 40% processor power (max) to Apohysis and 20% to Firefox and the rest floating. I want to adjust these ratios real time when I set a fractal to rendering.  Ditto with ram. Combine it with my idea of layered desktops and be able to break up resources among layers. Its like a shift-stick on a car. Takes a little more intelligence and skill to use, but gets that few extra mph.

5. Functionality Based User Profiles: I want multiple settings on my computer – productivity, blogging and social networking, graphic art, gaming. The icons on my taskbar, my desktop, running processes, screen resolution chang with profiles. I want to face a different computer for each. That isn’t to say I cannot run MS Word in the graphic art mode or Warrior Within in the blogging and social networking mode, but the tools, files and “look-n-feel” of my UI should get optimized (as I optimize it) for the intended function.

My OS is a swiss knife. Don’t give me a shiny new grip. Give me new blades.