A friend recently posted on his Facebook status that he is "saying good-bye to Microsoft." His plan is to completely wean himself off Windows and go "open source only." That means some variety of Linux, although he wasn't quite sure yet which one. He's happy with his Android phone, and he's even thinking about trying to get by with just an Android-based tablet and giving up his PC entirely. He figures he'll save tons of money and never have to see a blue screen of death again.
Well, I wish him the best. I know some others who have gone that route. Some of them are getting along fine without Microsoft -- at least as far as their primary computing devices are concerned. Others came back to Windows after discovering that Linux "just wasn't the same." Most of them discovered that, while the screen might not turn blue, that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be singing the blues now and then when their computers or tablets freeze up and stop working or randomly reboot on their own. A quick web search will confirm that this is not an uncommon occurrence on Linux systems.
But hey, it's good to try something new now and then, and I think it's great that he's expanding his horizons. Options are good -- and that's why I guess I don't really understand when people limit theirs by vowing not to use any of the products made by a particular company.
It's no secret that I'm not an Apple fan, but nonetheless I bought an iPad when that suited my needs (because it was the only light, thin, high-performance tablet on the market). I switched from Windows Mobile to an Android phone when I saw that the Google OS offered important advantages such as built-in Navigation, a friendlier UI, and better performance. I've given both OS X and Linux a try on the desktop and made the decision to stick with Windows because it works best for me. It seems silly to me to vow to "kick the Microsoft habit" as if a software brand were an addictive drug or calorie-laden potato chips.
Yet there seem to be a number of folks who have decided to do just that. There's even a website called goodbyemicrosoft.net that advertises itself as a "resource for those who wish to get Microsoft out of their lives and off their computers."
Until we meet again
Many more who have said good-bye to Microsoft weren't doing it as a matter of principle -- they just decided they don't need full-fledged desktop or laptop computers anymore. Tablets have taken the consumer market by storm. And, why not -- the form factor is far more portable, making it much easier to use standing up or lying down or lounging on the sofa or otherwise not sitting at a desk.
Switching to a tablet has meant, for the last few years, moving away from Microsoft. Although there are a few Windows tablets on the market, most are relatively thick, heavy, and, perhaps more important in a still-less-than-robust economy, expensive.
That's all about to change, though. With the impending release of Windows 8 RT, the edition that will run on ARM tablets, Microsoft just might be back in the game in a big way in the tablet market. And that means many people who left the Microsoft fold simply because they wanted to switch to a tablet may be getting reacquainted with a brand-new incarnation of Windows.
Microsoft's more deeply embedded in your life than you think
But even if you don't have Windows running on your computer, tablet, or phone, you may still be using Microsoft products without even knowing it. For example, if you have a Ford vehicle that includes the Sync communications and entertainment system, it runs on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive OS. Sync connects to your mobile phone and lets you use the "push to talk" button on the steering wheel to make calls via voice command. It can play SMS messages to you as audio files and will connect to popular MP3 players so that you can play your songs via voice command, too.
Today's digital cameras have turned into computers in their own right, and that means they need an operating system to run on. Some digital cameras use Windows 7 Compact Embedded.
New TVs have gotten "smart" -- connecting to the Internet via wireless or Ethernet and providing built-in web browsers, social media apps, and other applications that you can use without the need for a separate computer to be connected to the TV (that is, the TV has its own computer inside it, rather than just serving as a monitor for a PC). Some of those Smart TVs run on Windows Embedded, too.
Digital picture frames may not seem like a very important part of the tech market, but they're important to grandmas all over the world. Samsung, Imate, and others have used Windows Embedded to power their digital photo frames.
Exercise equipment has also quietly gotten a lot smarter, with programmable interfaces that let you track your progress, measure your vital signs, and even act as electronic "trainers." Windows Embedded has been used by Johnson Fitness in their high-end treadmills.
Luxury master baths are all the rage in custom homebuilding, and showerheads are no longer simple water dispensers controlled by the turn of a mechanical knob. Instead, there are multiple outlets with a variety of different jets, and the water can actually be choreographed via computerized controls that are programmed via a digital control pad -- and vendors such as Dornbracht use Windows Embedded to run those systems.
Some believe smart appliances are the wave of the future. LG used Windows Embedded in its Smart Refrigerator, which manages your grocery list and lets you shop online, even allowing you to scan the barcodes on your grocery items so that you can keep track of how old they are and get rid of them before they go bad.
Windows Embedded also powers home automation systems for managing climate control and tracking energy usage, home security systems, digital signs, robotic arms used in industry, and much more. The embedded form of Windows is at the heart of medical systems such as MRI machines, patient monitors, and portable ultrasound units. It's inside some of the GPS devices that guide you to your destinations, the soft drink dispensers and coffee makers that quench your thirst, HMI (Human Machine Interface) components in industrial equipment, conference phones, ATMs, self-service checkout equipment in retail establishments, universal remote controls, set-top boxes, robotic vacuum cleaners, and more.
Saying good-bye to Microsoft could mean giving up some things you never would have guessed were running on Windows.
Speaking of good-byes
I started writing this column almost exactly one year ago. Since then, I've produced around fifty of these weekly articles centered on Microsoft -- the company, the culture, and the products. This marks my last installment. It's time to move on to other things. I've enjoyed reading the spirited public discussions that some of my musings inspired and the private email messages I've received in response to them. I'll still be around, and I'll still be writing, and some of that writing will still be about Microsoft.
It's been challenging at times. As the spouse of a Microsoft FTE, I've made my husband cringe a few times when I questioned the wisdom of one of the company's decisions. As a Microsoft MVP, I've had to figuratively bite my tongue a few times to keep from writing about something that was under NDA. I've tried hard to be objective, although I know some readers have seen me as soft on Microsoft and some at Microsoft have seen me as disloyal. I figure if I can get both sides mad at me, I must be doing something right.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you over this last year. This position has brought me Friendships, it's given me Inspiration, it's made me Smile, and it's caused a few Headaches. So long (for now), and thanks for all the FISH.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.