August 2, 2014

Microsoft: Kill the Craptops Before They Destroy Windows!

Release after release, Microsoft pushes Windows forward. Yet the operating system is continually undermined by the “value-focused” low-end machines pushed by the majority of OEMs. This race to the bottom has tarnished Windows for a decade and now threatens to derail Windows 8. Microsoft must do something to stop the crap before it’s too late!

This is not the latest technology; it’s a junky craptop and will leave the buyer hating Windows

Attack of the Craptops

The Windows PC market is a scary place. Consumers are bombarded by “latest-technology” hype and meaningless specs. Walk into a typical PC store and you’ll see rows of flashy laptops surrounded by stickers and signs breathlessly proclaiming features you’ve never heard of. And everything is available for low, low prices that make the Apple Store seem like a complete ripoff.

As Paul Thurrott noted yesterday, the latest Best Buy circular says it all: “Upgrade to the latest technology”, the headline reads. The Toshiba Satellite notebook directly under this headline lists for just $369.99. Unsurprisingly, it’s an outdated piece of crap. Sure, the AMD Trinity “APU” (combo CPU and graphics processor) is fairly recent, but it’s not as good as Intel’s low-end offering. And a 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drive and 4 GB of RAM? No thanks!

So what’s so “latest technology” about that Toshiba notebook? Windows 8, that’s what. But that Toshiba and its ilk aren’t going to offer a good Windows 8 experience because they lack a touch screen, have limited RAM, and use a slow hard disk drive. There’s nothing “latest technology” about most of the PCs you can buy off the shelf at places like Best Buy!

Not Enjoying Windows 8

At Dell World, I tried out Windows 8 with a touch screen and it was a revelation. Suddenly the bizarre Metro tiled “start screen” made sense! Once I learned how to switch windows and tasks, I was impressed by the smooth animation and innovation in that interface. A convertible tablet like the Dell XPS 12 really does right by Windows 8!

It brought to mind my MVP trips to the Microsoft campus, where it seems every employee has a convertible tablet with a touch screen. I was also reminded of my time putting a Surface RT tablet through its paces. The “Metro” Windows 8 experience really is enjoyable, productive, and innovative!

Unfortunately, Windows 8 is let down by two body blows:

  1. Switch back to the old desktop or use a non-Metro application like Office and you’re going to be frustrated with the touch screen input method. You’ll be glad you can convert your XPS 12 back into a laptop or snap a touch cover on your Surface tablet! Your Windows 8 touch experience is continually frustrated by the flood of old fashioned and plain non-compliant applications!
  2. A bigger issue for the mass market is the fact that the vast majority of PCs are fatally under-equipped to deliver on the promise of Windows 8. Sluggish I/O from old fashioned hard disk drives, bare-minimum RAM, and slow CPUs and graphics chips are bad enough. But using Windows 8 with a touchpad really doesn’t come near the experience on a touch-screen device!

These two factors combine to ruin the Windows 8 experience for most buyers. Even if Microsoft gets their marketing message across, drumming up some excitement among customers, the vast majority of Windows 8 PCs on offer are a disappointment.

Microsoft needs to do something before the entire Windows market falls apart!

Kill the Craptop

Microsoft should take matters into their own hands. OEMs are locked in a race to the bottom, and big box retailers are playing along. Microsoft must put a stop to it, but it might already be too late!

The craptop/netbook factor is already strangling the Windows PC market. Most consumers really don’t like Windows anymore, believing it’s a bloated mess since it runs so poorly on the “latest technology” PC they just bought for under $500.

Picking up a good Apple or Android smartphone or tablet seals the deal. An iPad or Nexus 7 runs smoothly all day on battery power and does 90% of what consumers want. Microsoft’s own Surface puts the average PC to shame, too! Consumers will eventually give up on PCs if they’re not compelling. And that spells doom for Microsoft!

The “Touch-Only” Option

Microsoft should cut off low-end devices and require a touchscreen for Windows 8. They should also demand a decent amount of RAM, a fast CPU and GPU, and all-SSD storage. This is pretty drastic, but it would place a stake in the ground, at least where laptops are concerned.

The OEMs would freak out, but this would be in their best interest, too! Not only can they escape the low-margin craptop game, they can improve customer satisfaction and salvage the laptop PC market.

Dell, HP, and the rest are perfectly capable of producing quality machines, but there’s no market for them right now. By requiring decent hardware to get the latest and greatest operating system, PC buyers would finally have access to the good stuff. They’d learn that Apple’s MacBooks aren’t magical after all!

But what about the desktop? As Ed Bott notes, multi-touch trackpads are acceptable with touch-enabled Windows, but the wow factor is seriously diminished. And my imaginary all-touch no-desktop Windows Touch wouldn’t be a great fit on the desktop or the server. So I guess this leads to another idea.

The “Split Windows” Option

This probably wouldn’t fly, since it would instantly double prices and would leave desktops and upgraders in the lurch. So this leaves another less-drastic choice: Microsoft should split “Windows Touch” from “Windows Classic” and let the market decide.

  • Windows Touch would be all “Metro” squares and touch applications. The Office team could port their iOS app to Windows rather than the other way around. And there would be no desktop or classic application compatibility. Windows Touch would run on ARM or Intel with fat binaries or an all-app store ecosystem. Imagine the iPad of laptops and convertibles!
  • Windows Classic would ditch the tiles and continue with a hands-off desktop, keyboard and mouse metaphor. Continue to support craptops, netbooks, and desktops but make it clear that this is the past and Touch is the future. This would be the default OS for Windows Server, too, since Metro makes no sense at all in the datacenter.

The biggest issue with a “Touch versus Classic” battle is that consumers would likely opt for the cheaper path and sink the whole thing anyway. Sure, that Dell XPS convertible with Windows Touch looks awesome, but you can buy two or three Dell Inspiron laptops with Windows Classic for the same money!

Stephen’s Stance

It’s a rare company indeed that is willing to sweep away the past and move into the future, and this is rarer still in the computer industry. Apple has done this repeatedly but at less risk; after all, no one cared if they went under! I can’t imagine Microsoft taking my advice and killing off the low-end crap, since it would nuke most of the PC market at the same time. I could imagine a “Split Windows” future, but it’s destined to fail. So goes the market, and so goes Windows.

  • deemery

    Maybe Microsoft should continue Windows 7 for ‘craptops’ and more importantly, for machines and users that do not want (to invest time or hardware for) Windows 8.

    But me, I’m sticking with my Mac :-)

  • Mark S. A. Smith

    Great observation, Stephen. I’m stunned by the low cost of the craptops and dismayed by the lack of performance. Your suggestions are noteworthy and as you point out, likely to go unheeded.

  • Azi

    By any serious objective standard, any modern computer sold is a supercomputer (2ghz+ CPU, 1gb+ram, 100gb+storage). If Microsoft is unable to create a 2D Operating system that performs adequately on such hardware, it is hardly the fault of the hardware makers (plenty of other platforms produce fluid touch interactions with a fraction of that hardware).

    I use a 250 dollar (post-tax) single-core refurbished laptop for audio and video production, parametric and mesh 3d modeling, 3d skeining and web browsing, and aside from taking twice as long to skein as a higher end machine, my computer is eminently adequate for the tasks I ask of it.

    The ‘craptops’ are the greatest values in computation available in the history of the industry, they can do anything you want them to, if you’re willing and able to run the right software on them. Don’t fault the hardware for your poor choices in host software.

  • Suuuure

    This is the dumbest article I’ve read in a long long time. It’s Microsoft that tried to force every desktop user to inherit a touch screen interface. Just because they write a bloated OS that can’t run on a minimal spec modern day computer doesn’t mean there is no market for them. I pray for the day there is proper Linux support as I don’t think I will install another MS OS if they continue to push for closed system touch screen interface on desktop machines. Then again every other OS Microsoft puts out is complete shit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/droelke Dan Oelke

    If they did this – your “low-end” Windows box would then be a $1500 machine. Sounds great if everyone had to buy a Windows box. However, I think it would cause the $400 tablets (Apple or Android) and $500 Android or Ubuntu notebooks to flourish. Yeah they will be making better margins, but on far less revenue.

  • Guest

    This the dumbest comment I’ve read too. You can pour all your sweat praying from you garden of fool and your god linux will not see the light of day.

  • Jordan

    Maybe the average consumer, the one that knows no better, doesn’t really need the latest flashy OS, a quad core processor, or 8GB of RAM. The laptops they buy tend to be for YouTube, web browsing and social networks. I can almost bet that not everybody will what to spend what that sort of hardware costs either.

  • disappointed

    I could not disagree more! this article is complete nonsense!I agree with the review below, worst article I’ve read in a long time.

  • verydisappointed

    How much you wanna bet the author is an Apple user

  • StephenIsADummy

    You are an elitist. Why would it matter what the low-end of the hardware market is. Should Hyundai stop producing the sonata and only sell the Genesis?

  • Florian

    Actually, the author is a Microsoft MVP. So you might be a HATER~

  • Florian

    Again, you are a hater. just hate everything you couldn’t understand.

  • Florian

    As I said before, the author is a Microsoft MVP.

    So, hello hater, goodbye hater.

  • http://twitter.com/rogerluethy Roger Luethy

    Stephen, good article. It’s about time Microsoft cut some of her ropes to the past to successfully move to the future.

  • Azi

    Note to Guest: Linux is a computer operating system, not a god. It currently runs 42% of consumer web enabled devices and it runs quite well on the great majority of existent computer hardware for those who prefer it. It’s seen the light of two decades, let alone a single day. What the fuck are you on about?

  • azi

    As someone who runs a 250 post tax ‘craptop’ I sincerely have to ask: what lack of performance are you on about? I can cold boot and have chromium playing a youtube video within 25 seconds.

    Why the hell would you tell me (and the rest of the computer-using world) that I shouldn’t be able to find an inexpensive machine because your preferred computing software platform can’t provide a reasonable computing experience on it? I mean no offense, but that’s pretty selfishly dick.

  • Azi

    For a modern flash-ready web machine at least 2 ghz cpu, 2 gb ram and 20 gb of long term storage is ideal. For most users, a dual core is also probably pretty high on the list of useful features, as modern operating systems will run one of the two as a watchdog thread to guarantee the UI never blocks on the CPU, making machines ‘feel’ much faster.

    It just so happens that this same setup will also be a passable video/image creation workstation, and is even usable in a pinch for 3d object modeling… All for well under $200 in hardware, and zero software costs.

    This is the real reason Microsoft should try and kill of the ‘craptop’ market- because they simply cannot compete with it, in terms of price for functionality to the user. Fortunately for the non monopolistic computational world, they lack the power to do so.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeWTweets Mike Wilson

    I’m surprised by this article.

    Surely the biggest problem with the ‘craptops’ is the preloaded software that they’re packed to the gunnel’s with? Bloated antivirus, “internet security” and proprietary updaters, downloaders, sports scores apps and so on. Sometimes you even get preloaded media centre software (I’m looking at YOU, Sony) that almost everyone simply doesn’t need. Even HP do it. A clean installation of Windows 7 or 8 would see them perform beautifully – even if the build quality is a bit creaky in places.

    All the best,

    Mike

  • rchrd881

    I’m not buying it. Windows 8 runs better on low-end systems than does Windows 7. I have it on five different machines, two are modern but low-end and the others are obsolete. No complaints about performance.

  • terry

    yes, insist on touchscreen for windows 8. Windows 8 was designed for tablets it does not work on a desktop or non touchscreen laptop, I can attest to this having been asked to evaluate it for the school I work for. by extension this would mean that a PC without touchscreen would run a desktop OS like windows 7, far better all round.

    I do find it ammusing that my first PC purched in 1996, running windows 3.1 seemed faster than a a modern PC with about 1,000 times the power

  • Sir William Baggins

    Gave up on Micro$oft years ago even for my home PCs. – my employers have had Linux on all our machines and servers for a long time. Our IT section looked at Microsoft’s latest offerings (7&8) and apart from the many, many disadvantages of operating a Windoze based network, it would cost the company loads in licence fees etc. I can’t think why anyone in their right mind would even consider M$ whan Linux is available – it has come on leaps and bounds – if you go to the bank cash machine, watch sat tv etc, or log on to your ISP, you are already using it every day!!!