Apple gained an operability and interface edge over Windows with the introduction and refinement of the OS X operating system and that continues with the impending release of the Mountain Lion OS. Before anyone debates Apple's advantage, know that Microsoft looks to be working to include several innovations already present in OS X within its new Windows 8 operating system. These are some of the new-to-Windows-8 features helping Windows narrow OS X's lead.
No Start button
Rumors and pre-release builds suggest Microsoft is eliminating the Start button in Windows 8. That's because few really use the antiquated launch button anymore. Just as Apple discovered long ago, a dock of commonly used icons (the taskbar in Windows) and popular, customizable desktop items (Windows 8's new Start screen) are what users really want. Microsoft, finally, is catching up with the elimination of the tired Start button, originally introduced in Windows 95.
New Start screen
Windows 8 prelease builds include a new Start screen. The innovative Metro style element essentially mimics OS X's Launchpad feature (introduced in Lion and continuing in Mountain Lion), in which installed apps appear as window icons that can be accessed quickly. Thankfully, the Windows 8 Start screen looks to be easily customizable, which means users will be able to tweak the apps and programs to appear as desired. The Start menu is, in fact, a key component of the Windows 8 Metro interface. Unfortunately, Microsoft's implementation design is proving unpopular to some.
Apple worked over time to evolve its troubled Mobile Me platform into iCloud, a Web-based subscription service that empowers OS X users to store and synchronize documents, email, spreadsheets, presentations, contacts, calendars, photos, and more across multiple devices. Microsoft is getting onboard with the same strategy, calling its new cloud-based storage and synchronization technology Skydrive. Microsoft's cloud-storage solution will be tightly integrated within the Windows 8 operating system, just as iCloud is now woven throughout all OS X platforms.
Microsoft is learning to integrate other features, too. Again, Apple is the apparent source of Redmond's inspiration.
Apple, of course, figured out the beauty of integrating an app store directly within its OS. When it did so with iOS, the company learned it could generate revenue while also controlling the quality of the apps published for its platform. Apple also learned that maintaining its own app store meant it could assist users in tracking the software they purchase, thereby making reinstallation a snap whenever a new device is purchased or a system is reinstalled. Businesses soon saw advantages, too, when Apple integrated its Mac App Store directly within the Lion (and soon to be released Mountain Lion) operating system.
Now, having had its lunch handed to it (Apple customers have downloaded some 25 billion apps from the Mac App Store), Microsoft is integrating a Windows Store directly within Windows 8. Implemented properly, the Windows store offers Windows users an easier way to purchase, install and maintain software programs commonly added to desktops, laptops and tablet computers, including word processing programs, spreadsheet apps, presentation software, photo and video editing suites and similar programs.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.