Smartphones

Android's apps are comparatively ugly: Is Linux to blame?

Donovan Colbert didn't realize how nice WP7 was until he had to go back to the Android platform. He predicts that Microsoft will come from behind to steal Android's thunder if Google fails to make huge improvements.

I like Android devices, and I appreciate that their arrival on the market shook up a market segment that had become almost entirely dominated by Apple -- but in the long run, Android is half baked. Unless Google makes huge improvements, I predict that Microsoft will come from behind to steal Android's thunder.

What really drove this point home for me was my recent review of Verizon's HTC Trophy WP7, which is a slick, polished, and smooth device that makes my Droid 2 look like a wood club by comparison. Everything is fluid and responsive, and the OS and apps are so finely tuned that you can't really help but notice how far behind Android and even iOS are in this regard. Most importantly, this is an example of Microsoft's freshman effort at a modern mobile OS. If MS came off the starting block this strong, what happens when they find their stride?

In so many ways, the WP7 platform delivers a far more consumer-oriented experience. They've leveraged beautiful features to add significant enhancements to the platform and apps in an intuitive and innovative way. As I said in my review, the WP7 e-mail client is where I really noticed the detail that Microsoft has put into delivering a world-class experience to end users. The stock Android and iOS e-mail clients don't provide very meaningful search and sort functions, but the WP7 platform allows you to view all messages, only unread messages, or to sort by a variety of other criteria with a simple flick to the left or the right. It isn't just pretty -- it's an elegant way to achieve results in the limited environment of a mobile device.

Honestly, I didn't realize how nice WP7 was until I had to go back to the Android platform. I always knew the stock Android e-mail client disappointed me, and I wished it had better sorting features, but I had learned to live with the disappointing functions and ugly interface. After using the WP7 client, I had to find something better.

Now, one of the advantages of Android is that you don't have to be content with the stock applications, and the open market means that anyone who has a better idea can write an app and publish it. Because of this, there are several pretty nice alternative e-mail clients available for the Android platform. Many of these offer advanced sorting and other features that even go beyond what the WP7 client offers. I can't really complain about this aspect. I wanted alternatives, and I quickly found a half-dozen possibilities.

But I discovered something else in my search for a more robust e-mail client. I'm not sure what the reason is, but all of the e-mail clients seem to build on adding features to the general design aesthetic of the stock client. There's no radical departure from the basic presentation. In much the same way that Eudora, Outlook, and Thunderbird all follow a basic template for how a desktop e-mail client should look and feel, the Android e-mail clients all look and act pretty much the same, with small distinctions in feature-set being the primary differences.

I've been playing around with computing devices for a very long time. I've always felt that the basic hardware platform and core kernel of any electronic device seems to determine a great deal about the look and feel of everything else that grows from that device. For example, I believe that a studied eye can generally tell the difference between an app designed on an 8-bit Atari versus an 8-bit Apple, or one designed to run on OS X versus Windows or Linux. The base platform sets the templates and framework on which almost everything built on it operates. There are exceptions, of course. A full-screen game like Call Of Duty will most likely look the same on OS X as on Windows. In general though, I think the majority of apps reflect the OS they were designed for and the tools they were created with.

I've also argued that Linux is ugly. I'm not a developer, so I don't know what the reason is, but Linux apps always seem less polished, less attractive, and a little under-produced compared to similar apps available for closed-source platforms. Maybe it's just the aesthetic eye of the developers who write apps for Linux, but all you have to do is open up GIMP next to Photoshop, and I think the superficial facade of one is clearly more pleasant than the other. I'm not talking about the tangible experience. GIMP is a powerful tool that may match or exceed the capabilities of Photoshop, and it does so for free -- but it just doesn't look as good doing it.

I wonder if the fact that Android is built on a foundation of Linux code might be reflected in the e-mail client apps that are available for this OS platform. Perhaps the majority of these developers are Linux developers who migrated to Android app development -- or it could be that there's something in the foundation of Android itself that results in less visually-appealing apps. Does Linux make Android apps ugly, or do Linux developers write ugly apps?

If someone wanted to, they could code a clone of the WP7 e-mail client. It might work functionally identical to the WP7 client, but my guess is that many of the features that make the WP7 client look so visually stunning are APIs and classes built right into the base OS itself. It would probably take a lot more work, be a lot more complex, and have a measurable impact on the speed and reliability of the app to achieve the same results.

Sure, Linux-based platforms are capable of stunning feats of impressive graphics. The Compiz Cube remains one of the most impressive examples of OS eye candy available on any platform. But once you get past the Cube, everything else on most Linux distros is pretty ugly compared to the competition.

Many FOSS advocates claim to prefer the simple, spartan, and utilitarian interfaces of Linux apps that are free of much of the fluff and bloat associated with the more mainstream commercial platforms. However, these users are in the minority. Android, more than any other Linux-based variant, is designed to compete for the majority consumer mind share against those fluffy, bloated closed-source counterparts. The truth is that mainstream consumers expect those features. They result in a positive perception of quality, because users equate highly polished apps with a more finished platform.

We all know that iOS has a prettier e-mail client, a superior soft keyboard, and other features that simply shame their Android counterparts. We also know that the open market encourages developers to address these shortcomings. However, enough time has passed that two things seem evident:

  1. Android developers either aren't or can't match the level of polish seen on competitor's offerings. I don't think that it's because developers fear patent lawsuits -- we see enough skins and desktop replacements that attempt to make Android look more like iOS to know this. Stealing look and feel isn't the problem.
  2. Where alternatives exist, it's a bummer to have to pay extra for features that are part of the bundled base OS with the competition.

Ultimately, I like Android, and the benefits of the open architecture and philosophy of the Android platform are still far more compelling than what I give up by not having an iOS or WP7 device. But I'm a gadget geek willing to put up with more and to be more forgiving than the average consumer, especially when the trade off is a more empowering experience that allows me more control over how I use my device.

Google needs to acknowledge that, in the long run, satisfying users like me won't allow them to remain competitive when Apple and Microsoft are courting a much broader consumer market. Android developers need to pay attention to what Apple and MS app developers are doing and make sure that their apps compete effectively with the apps available for other devices. Microsoft may not be on the radar of the Android community now, but unless the Android ecosystem really starts delivering the same kind of experience, they may soon find themselves wondering how they ended up playing catch up with a vendor they thought they had buried in the sands of time.

Do you think the inherent advantages of Android are enough to keep these devices in the game? Let us hear your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

47 comments
dell_comp
dell_comp

Its google and developers of android market place to be blamed not linux. We all have known from years if you have a basic Linux you can run any application over it. For that to happen some of the core applications specially gcc and terminal should run. Android makes it hard(almost impossible) for gcc to run. They want to hide everything that is Linux on Android. You should praise Linux for providing such a platform where you can do so. None of the applications show they are running the power of Linux yet they do without acknowledging Linux. As you compared gimp and photoshop. They are two different applications. Gimp in windows is as crappy as in Linux. If you had native photoshop in Linux and photoshop in windows then there could be any point to compare. GIMP (see the name, its pronounced gimp not photoshop), so no point comparing. Its not Linux's fault adobe did not release photoshop for Linux. However you can do photo editing in Gimp too. I am running gimp 2.7.3 and, I can have a single interface as in photoshop and still I don't compare for good or bad it is not photoshop.

mfranzen7
mfranzen7

When MS WM Mobile Power PC came out, I was all over it, and then it fell behind. I am now an Android user and there have been some great points made in this article. It is too bad that a best-of-apps programmers group does not form some kind of standards R&D organization that could lead/guide the push to an extent of direct competitiveness with the other big players. As hardware improves such as new improved transistor technology, screen quality, and faster, smaller, lighter smart phones/tablets come out, the system software and apps will be the determining factor.

n2iph
n2iph

I haven't seen WP7, but I remember the last phone I had before I got the EVO 4G, which was the HTC Touch Pro that ran WM6. The Touch Pro was way better with email and the whole voice command system worked far better than my android ever has under any version of the Android OS. Bluetooth functionality sucks too, another area where the WM6 HTC Touch Pro outperforms the EVO 4G. I can only surmise that WP7 does even better, and maybe I should switch back to a Windows phone on my next upgrade.

rsmithsc
rsmithsc

If you talk to the guys at Google at least the ones that present at the SV Android meetups one popular idea is the form factor of the mobile phone will be that of a credit card. So I think Android is only in baby steps right now. Google just bought Motodroid, Android is free and Google has a cash cow. Mix that with a lot of smart people right in the heart of The Valley... the result is a train going down hill with a tail wind.

mo_mdpc
mo_mdpc

Ever since joining the Android revolution, I have grown more and more frustrated by developers rushing apps to market that have a pseudo sharp looking interface, but lack the functionality of a good quality application. While it is true that a lot of developers are weekend coders, these programmers are usually trying to create an application that functions for a purpose (something they see a need for). However, there seems to be more and more apps out there targeting ad revenue and web site steering (either professionally developed or code stolen) that are masquerading as useful apps. These applications, while pretty, tend to lock up memory, crash the device or simply disappoint the users so much that they become weary of future releases. These apps may look slick, but the main purpose is not to make sure your Android device remains stable. This is not to say that the applications that weekend a coder creates won't cause the same problem. That problem stems from lack of standards and testing. This leads us to the main reason Beauty seems to be an issue for most developers when comparing apps to iOS and WP7. When developers create apps for Android they need to consider a wider range of devices that the program can run on (iOS and WP7 don't). If you want to create a slick looking pretty interface app, for the Motorola Matrix (dual core) it will run fine, but it simply won't run on a lowly Samsung Moment. So, does the developer create functionality or beauty. $$ or sense? So now you have users complaining that their Launch Menu doesen't rotate as smoothly as an iPhone's does, as long as it does not crash, continually eat up memory and functions as designed I'm happy. As a new developer to Android, I am working my best to ensure some sense of beauty, but only after the code quality is built in.

itadmin
itadmin

For the man in the street the final decision mostly boils down to emotion. Form is more important than function in the marketplace. MS and Apple know this. So, give it pink, frilly, lace curtains and fancy effects and only so-so functionality and it will sell like hot cakes. Unfortunately this is true. Yes, it may make one feel like a charlatan adding all this fluff to one's hyper functional application with a GUI in pleasing shades of battle ship grey. Maybe they should stop the world and we can all get off. I'm on Debian and don't have an artistic bone in my body. The world is not the way I would like it to be, but there's nothing we can do about it.

aliahyp
aliahyp

The comment that "Linux apps always seem less polished, less attractive, and a little under-produced compared to similar apps available for closed-source platforms" is an unfortunate fact, and unfortunately this extends to Android. It is not "troll bait" to state the obvious. It is valid to ask why, after all these years (in the desktop case, anyway), that this is so. Posters are correct in that there is no inherent technical reason this must be so, so it must be a result of social or economic issues. I can't claim to have the answers, but I can think of three factors: One issue is that it is still harder to make money with Android apps than it is with iOS apps, so many Android apps are single-developer projects done in spare time. This does not lead to a lot of user-tested polish, though the functionality may be there. iOS and WP7 also have a gated marketplace, so bad-looking applications can be screened out. I don't know about the cultural issue, but it does seem that Linux developers and users alike care about functionality over eye-candy--substance over form, which is not unreasonable in FOSS development, and not something they see as a liability. How much of this Linux substance over form culture translates to Android, on which applications are based on a variant of Java, not X, GTK, or whatever, I don't know, but for such developers developing Android or Android apps with this attitude, there is a disconnect between the demands of FOSS vs commercial (and Android phones are commercial products). The problem is that eye candy matters in capturing the hearts and minds of the general population. Positive impressions from polish leads people to attribute (however wrongly) quality to the entire product, and conversely something that appears half-assed in their eyes will be seen as a half-assed product overall, regardless of the underlying soundness of the OS. Remember that smartphones are still either expensive or require a contract--meaning that consumers will be stuck with their choice for a long time. Therefore it is important that users "like" how things look and feel. The looming threat is that Windows Phone 7 and iOS will push Android to the margins because of consumer choices, based on perceptions based on appearances. This would be a great loss, since Android is the only widespread phone platform that allows its users to run whatever they want. Google and Android developers need to deal with this while Android is still at the top of market share.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I smell a troll... Mr. Colbert should be aware that the "look" of Linux desktop programs is often limited by GTK+ and XWindows. He should also be aware that Android doesn't use XWindows or GTK+. It should be obvious to even a casual observer that Android applications don't look like most Linux applications. This looks like troll bait for a flame war. I can't believe he would publish something like this. Did you do it for the lulz?

dumascon
dumascon

I agree and appreciate your comments, but I find KDE stunning, if that means anything.

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

I don't think there's a technological constraint, i think it's all maturity/"sociology" of the developer pool, with a strong dose of economic reality, as Android apps are only slowly converging with iOS apps in earning potential. High quality Android apps are starting to emerge, though, that I think put the lie to any assertion that it CAN'T be done. Once (if) WP7 becomes popular enough, it won't surprise me at all to see Android skins that mimic it. Of course, the legal system may prevent that - did MS patent a "tile" or somesuch?

nwallette
nwallette

I've seen some really pretty Android apps, but overall I get what you're saying. When I rotate my iPhone, the screen does that nifty landscape portrait tumble. The Android screen just snaps into the proper orientation. It's a tiny insignificant transition effect, but it makes the iPhone feel a lot more polished. I would bet the reason these things don't happen on OSS devices is two-fold: First, there's no governing body. No approval process to guarantee overall coherence. No pointy-haired boss to say "yeah, it's nice, but can you make it really pop?!" Second, I think OSS developers, doing their thing on their own time for free, probably don't have the time and motivation to go from 95% to 100%. When you write a mail client 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, you have a little extra time to work on the finishing details. Well, sometimes. Then there are delivery dates just around the corner when you haven't finished basic functionality yet, but even then, there are likely to be "UI" teams and "core" teams doing work in parallel.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Android is Linux only at the command line level. The UI is a Java development sandbox. Simply put, we need to either blame lazy coders, limited dev tools, or Sun for the results.

dcolbert
dcolbert

The only reply I really have is: I think that it IS Linux's fault that Adobe did not release Photoshop for Linux - but that is a whole other blog completely unrelated to this one.

dcolbert
dcolbert

You could't drag me back. I've got my HC XV6800 still. It is about as practical today as a 486 running Win 3.11. Might be the HTC Touch Pro that is the problem.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

They're two different things. Yet at the same time, that's exactly what I see from too many apps and UIs; they think it's all about how it looks and not enough about how well it works. Or, they concern themselves too much about what it does and not enough about how well it does it. Either way, the error is in the Finish, not in the Bling. This also seems to indicate the biggest viewpoint of many techies--thinking that a good-looking product is all Bling with no muscle underneath when it's really just so well finished that it hides the muscle until you need it. I've seen econoboxes made out to look like the 'latest and greatest', yet couldn't compute its way out of a paper bag yet other machines that were arguably all show that performed as well as a custom rig. Stop mistaking the two and maybe you'll understand why some brands are more popular than others.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Great insight and well written. You nailed it. Thank you for the comment.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

The best part about Android is it's extensibility. You can change the way it looks. If you think you can do better then why don't you fix it yourself? I have loaded an aftermarket UI replacement and I can change many of the details about my device whenever I feel. I am not aware of any means to do this on an iOS device but I have never owned one either.

dcolbert
dcolbert

You're right - of course. The graphic routines in a desktop Linux distro are going to be based on different graphic subsystems than Android. Great point. So it isn't the graphic subsystem. I guess that leaves the developers. I did address that in the article. So, now the question is, is it possible that a significant number of Android developers are FOSS/Linux developers who are attracted to Android because it is a Linux built device - and is THAT the reason why so many apps are ugly on Linux, and ugly on Android too? To my eye, they're ugly in the same way, too. I guess there are some other great examples, too. Angry Birds is not materially different on an Android phone than it is on an iOS device. Neither is Need For Speed, or Doodle Jump. There are many cross-platform games that are identical.There are a lot of non-game apps that seem to me to be nearly if not completely identical as well. Kindle. I think we're headed in a great direction here, though. EBook readers on Android were all pretty spartan and poorly designed for a long time. Apple's iBooks significantly raised the bar and expectations, though. It took awhile, but eventually we saw Adiko, Starbooks and other Android e-readers rise to that level. As for a troll - not at all. I'm critical of Linux for these things, I've noticed the same things that I dislike on Linux seem to be a theme on Android. This was just my observation on this and my thought process in wondering why this is the case. I tried to make clear that I don't know the "why" of it, and I appreciate the input from you that clarifies that, at the very least, it isn't something to do with the substructure of the platform.

Dethpod
Dethpod

>>This looks like troll bait for a flame war This place is starting to remind me of ZDNet. ZDNet has fanned the flames of one the longest running Holy (Holy as in "Holy crap are you STILL arguing about this? ) wars I am aware of. It is nothing short of repugnant.

Dethpod
Dethpod

>> but I find KDE stunning, if that means anything. Not really. KDE is as visually enticing as imagining Nancy Grace nekkid.

MetalFR0
MetalFR0

...then Google would already be in trouble, because the new "home screen" for the Android Market has a very similar "tiled" look to it than what WP7 boasts. It's not as pretty or functional, but it's certainly a aesthetic step up from the previous Market look/feel, and a step in the right direction for delivering more of a content-based approach versus merely functional.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I especially like how you describe the extra little detail of having a portrait-landscape "tumble". This is exactly the little detail I'm talking about - and I think your reasoning for the Why Not of it is probably pretty astute, too. The thing is, WP7 nails this, possibly even better than iOS. They've got that iOS polish, but they're doing these things effortlessly on hardware that is less robust than an iPhone 4 - and they've upped the game on being innovative with delivering not just fluff, but feature-enhancing fluff that fully leverages the limitations of a mobile device format. This also goes along with arguments I've made in the past against the "Many Eyes" model argument of FOSS for delivering quality products. Ultimately, when you've got a pointy haired boss (or at least one in a jeans and turtleneck uniform) - who is in it for the bottom line, you get a more singular focus on delivering something that differentiates you from the competition and brings a compelling reason for the consumer to spend their money on THAT product. FOSS products generally seem to lack that - and that philosophical approach seems to be, for whatever reason, reflected in the Android App ecosystem. I don't know. It just seems like Android has some stiff competition coming their way and I'm not sure they're doing the best they can to be prepared for it.

Aaln
Aaln

After all, your entire position on this discussion seems to promote WP7 while criticizing the competition over trivialities, such as eye-candy.

nwallette
nwallette

I cited iOS' smooth rotation as a visual example of being polished, since the article focused on the superficial aspects of completeness between platforms. But the reality is, the rotation effect is a visual analogy to the completeness of iOS in general. It's a very well thought-out interface that has stood up well against others that have arrived since. Android did some things right, with the hindsight Apple didn't have at its disposal when the iPhone was introduced. I haven't touched a WP7, and I don't really intend to consider it as a replacement for my own use. Microsoft is clueless most of the time, and I don't expect they will have learned a thing upon their re-entry into the mobile market. But Apple and Google have the right idea. I'm currently on the Apple side of the fence, but if I ever feel Android has the same level of thorough quality, from the kernel all the way up to the useless but charming visual effects, I'll gladly hop over. The app marketplace is one of those compromises that both helps and hurts. Yes, I'm frustrated that Apple refuses certain types of applications (I'd love a decent WiFi analyzer, for instance), and I do believe they're in the wrong regarding competing products (the aforementioned VLC media player debacle, for instance), but I am [barely] willing to let that slide in exchange for some degree of safeguarding and usability screening. I don't want to install an anti-virus package on my phone, thanks. Please allow my apps only the resources left after my *PHONE* takes what it needs. Google needs to have this same perspective. Beauty is skin-deep. But the careful engineering and quality control that is responsible for that surface sheen are what has allowed iOS to thrive for years while Android has had a rocky mix of avid fans and obvious failure. WP7? I dunno, wake me in two years if Microsoft is still interested in their product.

dcolbert
dcolbert

" If you think you can do better then why don't you fix it yourself?" This doesn't fly, and this attitude, which is a distinctly LINUX attitude, is why Linux *never* had a Year of Linux on the desktop, and is now threatening to make the "Decade of Linux Mobile Devices" a dream that could have been. You can't shift this. Android and Google and the developer community have to COMPETE in a closed-market ecosystem with other for-profit, closed-market corporations, huge corporations, for market mind-share and dominance. Linux idealism about grass-roots, DIY, open-source, you-own-the-right-to-review-the-code-on-your-machine philosophy is going to flatly *fail* in the place where Android competes. Neon Samurai's arguments about what is and isn't success don't apply here. If you can't compete with Apple and Microsoft in this space, pound for pound, you're going to find yourself keeping company with WebOS - and *that* is *failure*, plain and simple. If I'm trolling it is because I *do* have a stake in this, it is because I *do* have a horse in this race. I *want* Android to remain market competitive and viable, because I've staked myself a lot it its kingdom. The fact that things are going the way they are disturbs me.

Aussie_linux_user
Aussie_linux_user

I think the argument that an OS is inherently going to result in ugly apps is flawed.. All environments these days have the tools to make bearutiful apps and it is up to the developers to design their apps to be beautiful.. With apps developed by small non-commercial teams in Android, Linux and IOS (especially early iPhone apps), is they generally don't have a design team as the commercial apps do.. They also don't have strict style guides as developed by designers. Good OSS apps, take on feedback from their user communities and incorporate them.. even better ones attract developers that work on the visual and UI design of these apps. What creates a perception of ugliness in linux is inconsistency.. where some apps use QT, some gtk+ and various other toolkits.. however there are actually some beautiful apps (the Ardour DAW springs to mind,) .. and typically I have found many OSS apps look better on linux than the OSX or windows releases. probably because they integrate into the environment better.. Although I think the crux of it is the focus of the developers.. Most end-user apps (e.g. not services/server side apps) are developed by a limited number of people and function is the priority.. While there are many reasons to choose linux (and probably an equal not to.. just like any OS).. it was not designed as a commercial OS, most non-developers who were attracted to Linux were attracted due to better performance on the same hardware .. apps continue to be developed this way.. Unless the various linux communities actually want linux to become a dominant desktop player (and I've seen many developers argue against this for some very valid reasons) I can't see this changing .. As for Android, it's not really linux anymore, it's more of a fork.. not until the changes they make are merged back in it can't really be considered linux. Back to apps.. I've got some beautiful apps on my HTC Desire.. and some ugly ones.. similarly I've got some pretty damned ugly Windows apps and some fine ones and likewise for OSX.... So back to my original argument it's not the OS that dictates the ugliness but the developers.. and this can be influenced by resources, purpose (function not form), experience of the developer.. e.t.c..

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Personally, a well-formed figure looks better than any supermodel or whatever. In fact, I've seen guys who looked better than some women. And that's my point. The quality of the software says a lot about the OS it runs on. Crude is crude no matter what dress you put on it.

LeMike
LeMike

Half of the US already saw her half-naked ... e-u! The sense behind this article is about as attractive :(

kschlotthauer
kschlotthauer

I have an iTouch and a Thunderbolt with the new Gingerbread update. So far, it is slick and fast. I have notice there are 2 types of phone users in this world....the people that love APPLE and everyone else. You have your Linux people that are against EVERYTHING closed, and then you have your MS Fanboys that think MS while isn't perfect, offers the best bang for the buck and then you have your APPLE Zealots that think Apple is the be all end all and if you don't drink the Apple flavored Kool-Aid, you are a neophyte living in the stone age of computing. With all that said, Android has some great 3rd party desktop apps that make the Home screen POP so to speak. HTC has done an amazing job with SENSE and Motorola has BLUR...both great in themselves, but outside that box you have some free ones or lowcost ones such as GoLaucher (FREE) or DxTop (couple of bucks) or SPB Shell 3D which is a little pricey ($14.99) but it has a Compiz like wheel and extremely customizable. I also like the fact that Android/Google let's the developers get to market their APPS without having to jump through the VETTING process of what Apple puts the APPS through. I heard one company went out of business waiting for APPLE to approve their APP. While I am not a FanBoy of any one platform, I do think the potential of the Android is here to stay for awhile, once Windows 8 hits the market for Tablets and PC's....I think that will be a game changer as far as convenience of having 1 familiar OS to deal with.

alphaa10
alphaa10

When poster dColbert intones Steve Ballmer's favorite hymns to "Microsoft innovation" and attacks free and open source by awkward and faint praise, we already recognize the familiar, hoary rant of Microsoft evangelists that simply will not adapt to a new era. Colbert's insinuations about open source are straight from Microsoft, and very jaded arguments. They also betray an anxious defensiveness about the decline of Microsoft's proprietary desktop regime, one deserted daily by users who realize the advantages are no longer with Microsoft. But when a Microsoft evangelist defends Windows for its cosmetic appeal, we immediately understand morale in Redmond has reached a new low. Perhaps Microsoft might do well to reduce the number of jobs it exports from the United States-- the country which gave it every advantage-- and actually increase employment for local, American coders. In any case, contrary to Colbert and his high praise for Windows cosmetics, the issue with most consumers is much more realistic-- performance for the dollar. In addition, most office product users do not need-- much less ever imagine using-- the full MSOffice featureset, and cannot defend the cost of typical Microsoft licensing. Those working through budget-constrained times must be sharper about their choice of applications, and about what they actually get for their money. Today, FOSS offers a profusion of very competent alternatives to most proprietary applications. Deprived of obvious brand cues, the typical office worker is hard-pressed to recognize significant difference in basic tasks comprising most of the workday. This is not to say the Microsoft product is indistinguishable-- we have only to glance at the Microsoft pricetag. The market has changed, and Microsoft is past its prime and knows it. In contrast, excitement in the FOSS community runs high about current and prospective offerings. The motivation driving open source is also different-- much more creative and vastly more edifying than a "bottom-line, quarterly-dividend" mentality. Open source is a community of programmers, doing their best work when it bears their virtual signature and the stamp of their best ideas. Bogus notions from Microsoft evangelists that it takes the manager's lash to produce the best work from a coder is simply not borne out by experience-- the more educated, skilled and talented the professional, the more that personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment matters. Debate about "fit and finish" issues between commercial vs. open source are, as some on this forum already recognize, a deliberately misleading argument. We have only to recall decades of bad software from Microsoft to realize the only guarantee about proprietary software is (1) frequent vendor lock-in (2) breathtakingly high expense (3) frequent upgrade costs and the certainty (4) every user not paying a premium will visit a forum for assistance. Put another way, Microsoft through the decades has a record of promoting itself by denigrating the competition, not by its own product merit. However, "talking trash" does not make it true, whatever other merit Colbert brings to the discussion. And in no case does it make a better case for Microsoft, the company that in its own 1994 dictionary of computing did not consider the internet worthy of mention.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Up to a point, I don't care how an app looks; I've seen many apps that are far too much 'artsy' and not enough 'craftsy', and I'm not even an Android user. The old saw that 'form follows function' is still somewhat true as tablets and smart phones have a function that follow their form factor, just as laptops and desktops each have their own form factors. Now, how they 'look' can vary but even then they're still constrained by their purposes. Software really isn't that much different; the looks should be primarily influenced by their purpose. On the other hand, crude, incomplete-looking apps simply aren't going to be as attractive as those given a professional 'polish'. And really, this is where Android apps--and UIs--seem to fall short. Honestly, I'm no more pleased by Microsoft's 'Metro' UI because it looks to me like they're using colors simply to be using colors--without any real purpose or style. I'll say the same for web pages as well, such at Tech Republic's own changes to these boards which seem more about change than any true improvement in functionality or style. I don't argue that Android is a capable OS; I argue that it's an uncontrolled OS. I personally feel that Windows Phone OS is more stable due to its control, but the look is too juvenile. Both may (and I emphasize the word may) do different things from iOS, but iOS itself is a more polished and professional-seeming platform for the form factor and UI. You pretty much know how to use it straight out of the box without having to read a book, first. The 'look'-- the 'style'--makes its function obvious and intuitive.

Aaln
Aaln

Android phones caught up with iPhone not because of 'deep discounts', after all, Android is free. It caught up and surpassed iOS because it could do more and ran on any hardware. Your speculation that HTC and Samsung will have a significant impact on the Android market is just that - a guessing game based not on numbers or facts. Neither of these companies have corporate strategies that rely on moving away from Android (like Nokia.) Any new plans will still involve Android. To say that the new and improved WP is more beautiful than the Android UI is a purely subjective statement. Truth is, Android UI and apps are not bad looking; and relative to other OS's, who really cares?

dcolbert
dcolbert

I knew there were some controversial statements in this post (that I believe in - not just in there to troll flamebait) that fanboys, advocates and the religious acolytes would jump on - but the big picture is exactly what you stated. I'm working out of a hotel room in Louisville, KY right now. To be able to meaningfully read and post to the forums here on TR, I had to turn off my Android Transformer and I'm on my Lenovo S10 running Win7. I could have just as easily have booted into JoliOS, the dual boot OS on this unit - but the bigger point is, I had to bring my netbook along just because of things like this - when the Android tablet should be able to do it all. Android is very close - but the competition is very stiff right now - and there are multiple ways where Android is failing to compete.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Apple introduced the iPhone and iOS in '07, it took Android 3 years to catch up, mostly through extreme discount pricing, and another year to move significantly ahead. However, reports are out that Samsung is considering a shift to Bada, HTC is considering purchasing another OS (presumedly WebOS) and Google itself has purchased Motorola Mobile to focus on a more controlled version of Android. Considering Samsung and HTC are Android's strongest device producers at the moment, this could be a 50%-75% cut in Android sales within the next 3 years--depending on how well their in-house devices sell. Android, thus, is already losing momentum and could start its slide as early as next year. Just as iOS dominated the smartphone market for over 3 years, Android looks headed for a similar loss to something else in just about the same amount of time. True, beauty is subjective, but ugly tends to be objective. Then again, some things can be so ugly they're beautiful. It's not necessarily how pretty it is, but how professional it appears. Fit and Finish are as important as functionality.

Mad Mole
Mad Mole

"What nonsense. Android already dominates the mobile market by margins over WP." It has for 1, maybe 2 years? The point is that Linux-based mobile OSes have the potential to dominate for more than a couple of years but without a concious effort to improve the user experience that dominance is unlikely to last. "For instance, Android can do more things than iOS or WP." Quite possibly but Maemo would have left Android standing if that was the primary reason for Android's success. I'd argue it's the very fact Android is the most consumer orientated Linux OS that has lead to it's market lead. I completely understand advocates of a utilitarian approach, it's my own preference. However being clearly in the minority means if we want to maintain a supremely flexible, capable mobile OS we must also accept more visual candy. The mobile Linux community must accept the general populace are subconciously Magpies (oooooo-shiney). If not, the door will be left open for WP to surplant Android as the mobile OS of choice for the masses.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I think your post was very well stated. There is a lot at stake here. And I think you're on to something. Most vendors would love to see a Post-PC world where the flexibility of the traditional computing platform is locked down and out of reach to the end-user. Integrated DRM, copy protection, the inability to side-load non-approved apps, the ability to add a "market" tax to every app purchased, the inability to choose a different platform. Most Linux/FOSS advocates are only going to see red and attack me as a troll, MS Fanboy or Shill, or make other outrageous claims defending any perceived slight aimed at the Holy Penguin of the Sacred Propeller-head. That isn't exactly what this about. I mean, sure, I'm very critical of Linux, and even more of the Linux *community*. But it isn't because I hate Android. I've had a Droid 1, I have a Droid 2, I own an ASUS TF101, and I suspect my next phone will be another Droid. But if things don't show improvement, there may be a Windows Phone in my future and Windows 8 may influence that. If Android loses me, you can bet they're losing a LOT of users less dedicated than I am to the platform. That is bad news.

Aaln
Aaln

"and is now threatening to make the "Decade of Linux Mobile Devices" a dream that could have been." What nonsense. Android already dominates the mobile market by margins over WP. Just as Linux dominates the tech sphere with supercomputers, the Internet, set-top boxes, navigation devices and other embedded applications. The philosophy that has driven Linux to success on the mobile market and other platforms has more to do with utilitarian practicality- the 'can do' anything and everything- than the aesthetics of visual candy. For instance, Android can do more things than iOS or WP. Now, beauty is subjective. Do I care how my screen rotates? No, I only care that it rotates. Period. I'm more interested in doing things and making things happen as opposed to being obsessed with round corners, shadowed windows, or glassy buttons. And to be perfectly honest, the Android interface is not at all ugly.

aliahyp
aliahyp

(I meant this as a response to Spitfire_Sysop, not dcolbert) The reason desktop Linux has survived is that it is possible to install the OSs of our choice on our desktops and laptops. While the average consumer has neither ability nor interest in a more open and flexible alternative OS to Windows or Mac OS, those who want it can still have it. This is not the case with smartphones. Maybe someday our phones will be our primary computers, with wireless peripherals for the desktop experience, and then maybe we'll see more options. The problem is that it is not really in the interests of the phone OS vendors to open their phones up to OS alternatives. What the telecoms, Apple, and Microsoft want is to lock consumers into their walled gardens, and the telecoms want to be able to charge for things like tethering that might be technically available for free under an alternative OS. The upshot here is that if manufacturers drop Android or any other Linux-based phone OS, mobile Linux will be truly *gone* from the market until and if the day comes that replacing our phone OSs becomes possible. Gone with that is widespread experience of an open platform, and with that, the clout to pressure these business interests for more freedom. This loss of freedom for the majority of users means the loss of mass awareness (such that it is) that Apple and MS are not free and that it doesn't have to be that way. Only a large number of customers such as we have with Android right now have the clout to push back against these business interests. With the loss of a mainstream open mobile OS goes the freedom for mobile developers to write and deploy whatever programs they want to write. Those same business interests that limit OS choice limit what can be deployed, as is the case with VLC player on iOS. VLC player conflicted with Apple's business plans so it got blocked for all but the most determined users. This is a *far worse* state of affairs than the original criticism of proprietary software that the FOSS community emerged to challenge. We're talking about freedom to redistribute FOSS software *not mattering any more*, because almost no-one can run what has been distributed. Given the stakes, I would have hoped that those who support FOSS such as Linux would see this as the crisis it is, and deign to try to imagine what it's like for an ordinary consumer to use their work, because this is war, and the lack of non-geek consciousness involved in the design of Android and its ecosystem is a fast-track for squandering the potential of the first time ever that a Linux-based OS was number one.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Is no supermodel, Vulpine. I guess you *could* call her well formed. ;)

alphaa10
alphaa10

The old debate about which comes first-- the OS or the app-- is not amenable to argument. Both are of the same, interdependent process. Microsoft owns Windows, as Gates used to say, but what part of "Windows owns Microsoft" didn't Gates understand? Because, effectively, Windows "owns" Microsoft and has informed its every market strategy for two decades-- to kill infant rivals and frustrate innovation, but never to confess Windows is only an entry ramp to the web, and only one of many ramps. The Windows OS, a relic of the desktop era, becomes steadily more antiquated and expensive to maintain as a sign of late decline in an empire. Windows is also entirely as cranky (but in more complex ways) as it ever was. Since 1994, when Microsoft last thought of itself as center of its own universe, Windows clearly has been eclipsed by the web. To observe Google and others developing alternative on-ramps is a reliable sign they want to build more and better entry ramps, not a sign of "Windows vivit et regnat Per omnia saecula saeculorum". So, more power to Google and others who are working on better, more powerful and flexible approaches for tomorrow. Meanwhile, absent viable options for its growth, Microsoft runs about feverishly to move MSOffice functions and services to the web-- the same fire drill it has been practicing since 1994. Speaking of inevitabilities, it follows that a progressive decline in the value of Windows-- as companies like Google realize a desktop OS battle is entirely beside the point-- coincides with an industry-wide realization the battlefront has moved to the web.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

But "Fit and Finish" is a deciding factor in many industries and quite honestly Microsoft's OSes aren't that much better in my eyes than Android or Linux. What Microsoft does have as an advantage is far more control over the OS and how it performs, something Android hasn't had and likely won't have until the Google/Motorola team-up produce their own in-house package which will likely blow all the others away. Why? Because Google has recognized that control of the UI itself is just as important as the capabilities of the base OS. Android's biggest issues as announced earlier this year isn't a failure with the OS, but rather the failure of the users to stay within the limitations of the OS--loading too many apps, competing apps, things that cause the OS to stumble and fail because they don't know how to use the OS. iOS's biggest advantage is that the OS and UI control the apps, not the apps controlling the OS. Motorola itself announced that more than half of all their returns had no manufacturer problems, but rather were so bogged down by uncontrolled apps that the users lost control of them. HTC didn't do any better, garnering a near-50% return rate according to one report. Motorola Mobility now belongs to Google; HTC is supposedly looking to buy WebOS while Samsung is looking at Bada for future mobility products. Why would they be doing this if they weren't seeing issues of their own with Android? Microsoft better? Definitely. Personally I think it's uglier, but at least its easier to use because they hold total control of the OS itself, something Google had to learn the hard way.

dcolbert
dcolbert

you're arguing against yourself without even realizing it. One of my points is that this is all a result of experiencing a WP7 interface where form follows function in a way that is innovative and intuitive and visually polished. WP7 has, hands down, the best e-mail client for mobile devices going today. It is not only more pleasant to look at - but it works better than anything else. They're not just rehashing the same old ideas. They've come up with a better way to deliver mobile e-mail. Add to that an OS that is as stable if not more than iOS out of the gate, and you've got a potential powerhouse of a mobile OS platform. As for the Metro style tiles - I'm not sure that it is "just a bunch of colors" and not something deeper that is just so radical that most users (and developers) just don't realize how to fully leverage it yet. Both iOS and Android better pay attention.

adornoe
adornoe

I was reading your post without first noticing who the poster was, and then your comments started sounding like what I'd read in the past, and I realized that, there's only one person that sounds like that, and I looked up and, sure enough, it was you, vulpine, posting the same defense and the same fanboish comments of all things Apple, over and over again. Try to get a life, and do start noticing that, there are other companies out there that make smartphones and tablets and computers. Living in the walled-garden of Apple doesn't give you any credibility at all when you make comments about other products and services.

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