Monday, February 5, 2007

Gates not happy about Apple’s TV ads

If you haven’t already read Bill Gates’ interview with Newsweek, it’s well worth a read, as Bill Gates tussles with questions relating to the Mac vs PC ads from Apple, features in Vista like Desktop Search, who really came out with cool features first and the next version of Windows, due sometime in 2010 or 2011.

One statement that will be of particular interest to Mac owners revolves around the features in Vista already being available on the Mac platform. Aside from stating words to effect that Microsoft developed many of the features first, and probably shouldn’t have demonstrated them so early, is a statement that “Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine”.

It does back up some of my own previous concerns that Apple, and Apple users, should be more concerned about security and will inevitably have to invest in the same types of security software that PC users sadly take for granted today. However Apple owners will probably just accuse Bill Gates of being jealous of the Mac’s reputation as a safe computing platform – after all, massive outbreaks of viruses or other security problems are yet to truly emerge on the Mac, yet are well known on the PC platform, something that drove Microsoft to make security a top priority.

In terms of Apple’s ads, which portray PC users as dull compared with Mac users, Gates is asked whether or not he is bugged by them. Gates responds that: “I've never seen it. I don't think the over 90 percent of the [population] who use Windows PCs think of themselves as dullards, or the kind of klutzes that somebody is trying to say they are”.

Vista has also endured its first major potential hacker scandal with the ‘shout-hacking’ claims, with effectively state that malicious sound files could contain commands that Vista’s voice recognition software could pick up and act upon. This, however, does depend on the user having the voice recognition feature activated, and it also depends on the microphone and speakers being placed in a way that is conducive to voice recognition working properly.

Getting past the UAC controls is also something that can’t be done using voice commands, and while the UAC pop ups are certainly a little annoying, I’ve surprisingly found myself leaving them on – something I didn’t do with Vista RC1, where the popups were more numerous and annoying. So this ‘hack’ isn’t really a major threat, and if you think it is, you can always mute your speakers before leaving your desk, or simply turning off your computer, rendering the attack useless.

Newsweek also asked Bill Gates about the next version of Windows, and Gates’ planned involvement in its development, considering that he is leaving in 2008. Gates responded that he will have the same level of involvement in the next version that he has had in previous versions, and made sure to explain that Windows is developed by a very large number of people these days.

He also claimed that the feedback Microsoft receives from Vista will weigh heavily on the features of the next version, which he claims will be more ‘user centric’, allowing you to visit other computers and yet still have what appears to be your own desktop, files, fonts and other preferences.

Given that your computing profile is set to become portable in the future, there is no doubt a lot of work going to ensure that this profile portability is as secure as possible. After all, you wouldn’t want to go to a friend’s PC, which, unbeknownst to you is infected with a virus or spyware, and find that information from your profile has been pilfered by the bad guys. We’ll need to see some serious encryption or other security in place before people will trust this feature.

While Vista is an excellent upgrade to Windows XP, one that is long overdue, in its first week since the launch, it is still suffering from driver-itis… a just-made-up medical term for a lack of drivers. Sadly, this is what happens every time a new version of Windows is released. Unfortunately, Bill Gates didn’t say anything at all about this, nor was he asked. It’s a pity, because it’s the one most annoying thing about a new operating system – where the ecosystem of drivers has not yet caught up with the mothership.

Instead of getting annoyed by Apple’s ads, it’d be much better if Bill Gates could apply as much pressure on software and hardware partners as possible. For me, knowing that the bits of hardware that don’t work properly on my Tablet PC start working because drivers have suddenly become available and have automatically updated themselves through Microsoft’s ‘Windows Update’ service would really have me saying ‘the wow starts now’.

Unfortunately, we’re all still waiting. Yes, it’s only been a week. But when it comes to compatibility with standard hardware that has been available for years, lack of drivers is not good enough. Bill Gates, it’s great to see you on TV spots and interviewed here and there. But what we really all need is our computers working properly. Until the driver issues are solved, for most people, the wow can wait.

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