Robin:This is Preston Gralla. He has been writing about Microsoft since about, what? 1820, is it?
Preston:Yeah, just about that, I think. It feels that way. That’s for sure. I started when I was first the founding managing editor of PC Week – that was in the 1980s. As a matter of fact, it was so early in the days of the PC, the IBM PC revolution that our publisher had to give us a talk, gave us a talk to explain the purpose of the magazine and to say, “You know what, the IBM PC really is the business PC. That’s the business standard.” And we had to drive that home even to advertise this, because at that time, it wasn’t clear that it was going to be the future. So yeah, I’ve been covering Microsoft for a while.
Robin:And obviously, they’ve changed just a little bit in that time, haven’t they?
Preston:Yeah, just a little bit. You know, what’s interesting about them now is that they are going through what seems to be the inevitable technology cycle of rise and decline. I mean, clearly under Bill Gates, what he did in the business sense was absolutely brilliant. The way he was able to build the company. And he built the company as many tech companies did in those days, basically on the bones of older technology companies, specifically more than the minicomputer companies. To a certain extent the mainframes but the mainframes were already being killed off by the minicomputer.
And then the PC came along, and started killing off the PDP 11s and all that, all the minicomputers. And now Microsoft, you can’t say it is being killed off because it is immensely profitable and immensely powerful. Yet on the other hand, if you look for growth, it is not succeeding at all in the growth areas. So it seems to be – it is odd to say that it is in decline when its profits are still massive, but the truth is when it comes to technology influence, Microsoft at the moment, which is not sure if it will still happen in the future, but at the moment in terms of influence it is certainly in decline, if not necessarily in profits.
Robin:Should I admit to you that my notebooks, mine and my wife’s, I went from Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 and back to Windows 7?
Preston:Oh, I am not surprised. I think that there are a lot of people who would like to follow you, because Windows 8 is really... I think Windows 8 was one of the worst mistakes Microsoft has ever made. It was trying to figure out how to face the mobile future – what it should do about the mobile future and it made the mistake of thinking that the ways the mobile future is basing everything around Microsoft Windows.
It seems to me that like it was that, you build an operating system in Windows that looks like a smartphone and tablet operating system, get people to use it on Windows but they go out and buy your smartphones and tablets. What Microsoft didn’t realize is that they were building an operating system for traditional PCs and laptops that doesn’t work. And so all they are doing is driving even some of their core customers away without necessarily gaining any mobile traction.
So I don’t think your experience is unique and a lot of people wouldn’t know how to go back to Windows 7, but I think a lot of people would like to go back to Windows 7.
Robin:Yeah, one thing I will say, let’s take Windows 8, like Android and like the various Apple iOS contenders, they really built something for touchscreens.
Robin:Now I can poke my finger at my big monitor all day long and nothing will happen.
Preston:That’s the point. That’s exactly what I mean. They built it for mobile, and traditional PCs and laptops certainly today aren’t mobile. I am not convinced they are going to be that way in the future. There will be some merging of them, but I still think there is a difference between working on a larger computer and working on a smaller very very portable one.
Robin:Let’s say a 14-year-old, or a 12-year-old, what would you get them in the way of a computing device?
Preston:You know, it depends what they are going to be using it for. I still think that in terms of doing actual work, doing school work, writing papers, maybe using spreadsheets, creating presentations, doing all the things that people are doing in school today, that’s a lot like are being done in business, I think for them I think some kind of laptop is probably the best. Now whether it comes to for cost, I would probably opt for some kind of Windows 1, if you really want to spend the money, you can buy Apple, but Apple is a lot more money.
So if it was me, and which is what I did by the way, both my kids ended up with Windows, various Windows computers when they were growing up here. So I would probably still opt for that reason. I know kids would probably rather have a tablet but I just don’t think that you can get as much work done on a tablet as you can on a traditional laptop these days. Not yet anyway.
Robin:Okay. Well, my grandchildren the daughters who are at that age, they disagree with you.
Robin:It is that you and I because we are old people, we can’t type on screens, we need keyboards. They can type on touchscreens.
Preston:Yeah, it is probably what, I guess, the kids want as long as the parents see they are actually being productive with it and getting the work done.
Robin:Well, the thing, is our household, our households are multiple, across multiple cities, are moving towards Android and the Hewlett Packard, HP that is, prints utility. And if you had it, you can directly print wirelessly. What about gifts? Do you have any good idea for Christmas gifts for the less technically enlightened?
Preston:I think the less technically enlightened, if you can spring forward, I think tablets are good. I really like for gift you know, iPad is a pretty expensive gift; a Nexus 7, the latest Nexus 7 I think would be really nice. I think that’s a really nice tablet. Android is a little harder to use for most people I think than iOS. Because it’s a lot more customizable, the hardware isn’t quite as well integrated with the software I think but still it shouldn’t take too long to get used to it. So I’d probably because of the combination of price and usefulness I’d probably opt for a Nexus 7.
Robin:Okay, now you write back and forth between, about Windows about Apple heavily. You are pretty broad out there, you give everybody a chance to hate you.
Preston:I succeed at it too, I think.
Robin:Oh yeah, yeah. Which one do you like personally for yourself? Now you have mostly Apple portable devices, am I right?
Preston:Actually I have everything. I have for traditional computers, I have Windows computers. I have a Surface Pro and a Surface tablet and I have multiple Android tablets and I have several iPads. And phones, I go back and forth between – I’ve used Windows phone at the moment, I am using an iPhone, and I have used Android phones a lot because I’ve written a lot of books about Android phones.
So you know, I think when it comes down to at this point for me, is for my workaday computer, it is still Windows. When I am mobile, when I'm out,because I work at home, I can go kind of batty in house all day, so I get up and go out cafés and work there. There I usually bring a MacBook Air with me. And then for tablets, I am usually going back and forth between an iPad, a Nexus 7, but I also like the You know, the Surface, especially the latest Surfaces when you combine it with those, really nice board covers, it is actually pretty good for what you might call a productivity tablet – a tablet that can double as an Ultrabook.
So I kind of use them all, depending on what I am doing at the time. What’s nice is the cloud and the internet. It makes it possible that you don’t need to be tied to one computer, you don’t need to be tied to one platform.
Robin:What would you do? You have so much stuff. Okay, for your kids, so you get them a Nexus, I mean not for your kids, but a putativekid.
Preston:Yeah, because of the price, I would get a Nexus. I mean, kids reallyI’ve noticed really like iPads – there is no way around that. But they are just a lot more expensive. So if you have a fat wallet, I would probably get them an iPad just because it is probably what they really want. But if you can’t afford an iPad, I would go with the Nexus 7, because it is really affordable and really good.
Preston:No. I don’t think so at all.I know that there is a big movement towards thinking that everybody needs to program. In fact, I don’t think you need to program unless you want to be a programmer. The truth is there are so many apps that do almost everything you want that you don’t need to program. In fact, I think the whole future of technology is the ability of people to start their own businesses without knowing not just programming it used to be if you wanted to start your own business, and be a small business, you had to be not only a businessman, you had to be an IT stack as well.
Well today, you talked about Google Drive – a perfect example. Look at what they are able to get with Google Drive – something that years ago, they would have a datacenter for it. Well they don’t need a datacenter anymore, because now it is in the cloud, and Google Drive. And what you are also having is all these services being outsourced via the cloud. You can do anything. Data counting. Anything you want you can get outsourced on the cloud. And so why bother to learn to program, if you are not going to be a programmer? I just think that it is really not particularly useful.