A Short History of the GUI and the Microsoft vs Apple Debate

Originally Published Jan 2007, Last edit November 2013

Bookmarks: IBM PC, Macintosh, Early Windows, RISC & NeXT, Windows 3, Apple System 7, Excel, World Perfect, Windows 95, Capone, Mac OS 8, iMac, OS X, iPod, Windows XP, Tiger, Vista, Leopard, Conclusion, GUI Evolution

Douglas Engelbart, an American academic and engineer working at the Stanford Research Institute, dreamt up the idea of a mouse driven graphical user interface back in the 1960s.

1966 Engelbart's Research Machine with Hypertext GUI, Keyboard, Function Key Pad, Mouse



In the early 1970s researchers working for Xerox in Palo Alto California added Engelbart's mouse to their experimental "Alto" workstation which broke away from the prevailing mainframe paradigm becoming the both the first serious modern "personal computer" and the first proper computer to feature a mouse. However, the mouse wasn't integrated into the operating system in a profound way, it was more of an accessory for people to experiment with. Although the Alto used a lot of expensive cutting edge hardware, and although it wasn't a commercial product, about two thousand units were manufactured for researchers, and many innovative programs were written for it including the first WYSIWYG desktop publishing programs. Note: word processing, desktop publishing and spreadsheets, which benefited from graphic user interfaces and didn't need mainframe databases only floppy drive storage, were the commercial "killer apps" that drove the early PC era.
 
Typical 1970s Mainframe vs 1974 Alto Personal Workstation with Mouse


In 1981 Xerox released a commercial workstation based on the Alto and called the "Star 8010 Document Processor". However it failed both because the mouse and GUI were quite primitive, and because it cost a hefty US$17,000 (about $40,000 in today’s money).

1981 Xerox Star. The first commercial attempt at a mouse based GUI.
 


1981 also saw the release of the IBM PC. Although the market for personal computers had been flourishing for about five years, it was highly fragmented with dozens of manufactures competing in both in the home and business markets. The first IBM PC was too expensive for the home market, but it proved a huge hit with business. "You can't get fired for buying an IBM" said many, but the PC quickly developed a more important attraction - open standards. Failing to realise the importance of the operating system, IBM purchased one from Microsoft. As a result other manufacturers were then able to copy the IBM hardware design and ship their 'Clones' with copies of MSDOS purchased directly from Microsoft. Note: clone manufactures took the same off the shelf hardware components IBM used in their PC, and brought them together with a reverse engineered clone of the IBM BIOS, but without IBM's fateful decision to rely on Microsoft's DOS they would have been helpless because they couldn't have reverse engineered the operating system.

As a result, beginning in June 1982 with the release of the first IBM compatible PC, and even without IBM's participation or approval, the IBM PC became an open standard with virtually unstoppable economies of scale. By 1990 IBM Compatible PCs captured an 80% market share, by 2000 97%.
 
One of the many IBM PC compatibles that flooded the market
 

 
IBM PC & Clones Market Share
 


Although this article is about Microsoft and Apple and the evolution of the GUI, perhaps it is worth spending a few paragraphs talking about the old Mainframe vs PC hardware debate that raged during the late 1970s and effectively ended with the 1982 emergence of the IBM PC Compatible standard. It wasn't just a dry computer science issue, people often talked about the debate from the sort of systemic philosophical perspective we associate with political oratory, rather like the debate between elitist top down Catholicism and grounded heart felt Puritanism, or the debate between the Post War State Interventionist "Post Keynesian Consensus" and Laissez-Faire Thatcherism (or Reganism). The post war economic model evolved out of the total mobilization and management of manpower and resources which all the major powers embraced in order to win the war. For example, in the aftermath of the war the British government maintained rationing of food and directed economic enterprises to provide whatever infrastructure projects and consumer goods it judged appropriate. Laissez-Faire Thatcherism evolved in response to the failure of the Post Keynesian Consensus during the tumultuous 1970s.

Now one of the problems with the old mainframe paradigm was that it had come to be monopolised by IBM which fought against the tides of change like King Cnut because it believed maintaining backwards compatibility was essential to sustaining its monopoly. Think, for example, about the 1970s socialists who killed off the Post War economic model. Imagine yourself running a state owned car manufacturer such as British Leyland, to be good instead of bad you have to serve the community, turn away from self-indulgence, and do a professional job. But the trade unionists who ran the world back in the 1970s were blind to everything except the welfare of their workers, and as a result they killed the goose that laid the golden egg, and thus they forced, so to speak, the gods to destroy them. For example, British trade unionists didn't want to embrace new technology or international competition in power generation because they wanted to keep inefficient deep pit British Coal mines running simply for the sake of the employees, but that parochialism, that inability to look past vested interests and comprehend the greater good, created higher prices poisoning the whole UK economy. Now take a deep breath and imagine yourself as a great statesman who looks far into the future, do you see that if that inefficiency hadn't been addressed it would have ultimately condemned the British people to the sort of slavery their Victorian ancestors once condemned much of the world too by becoming so much more evolved that them? So, speaking in the style of the Ancient poets, we could say that because the Brits were wise and faithful, the gods rewarded them by sending down a destroyer to cure the hubris of the socialists with nemesis, and that destroyer was Margaret Thatcher. How did Thatcher destroy the unions? Beginning in 1982 with the privatization of the nuclear company Amersham International plc, she shifted the balance of power from the workers to bosses, destroying the trade unions and changing the zeitgeist of the country, rapidly transforming the UK from a basket case into one of the most successful counties in Europe, although like a boat that can't keep get to its destination without tacks, the action she took created new problems which are beginning to overwhelm us today.

The point is that in the same sort of way that "big government" is now associated in minds of the ordinary opinionated Western masses with dinosaur technology and ghastly customer services and insolent employees, so mankind looks back on the old IBM mainframe era with contempt, accusing them of holding the world back by running the computer industry like an old fogies members club instead of a cutting edge adventure, and changing eye watering prices for the few instead of engaging with the many, and elevating their own interests over their passion for scientific advancement. But the truth is that just as "central planning" is the key to winning great wars, so mainframes broke the German codes, so these opinions seem as riddled with holes as the cheese the poets once said the moon is made from, and we should not tar and feather everything mainframe just because IBM failed anymore than we should tar and feather everything utopian just because the socialists failed. Indeed, there were some very exciting cutting edge developments talking place in computer academia such as the P.L.A.T.O. mainframe network which pioneered many exciting ideas such as online learning and forums and email and chat which didn't really emerge again until the internet took off in the mid 1990s. Yet although mainframe computer networks seemed to make more sense because they avoided duplicating expensive resources and kept things simple and safe for users and joined everyone together, they couldn't easily reach out and touch the masses at home in the way cheap personal computers such as the 1976 Apple I and 1977 Commodore Pet did.

1981 terminal connected to the ahead of its time Academic PLATO mainframe network.



1976 Apple I and 1977 Apple II. Two of the first personal computers that broke the mainframe paradigm like the legend of Prometheus who stole the intellectual fire from the palace of the gods and gave it to mankind. Visicalc the first spreadsheet was invented on the Apple II. Steve Wozniak, designer of these computers, was a geeky young engineer who designed them because he dreamt of owning his own computer but could not afford a mainframe, and he famously used as few chips as possible to minimize cost so that, for example, the Apple II had the world's first affordable floppy disc drive.



So to understand the philosophy involved in the transition from the mainframe to the PC we need to stop thinking about accomplishing some great communal task such as breaking enemy codes, and we need to contemplate other parts of the art of war, such as the creation of excellent troops by running training programs and separating the wheat from the chaff. And when we look at the history in that way, we notice immediately that whereas mainframes grew up around lab coat wearing men in the rarefied elite world of academia, defence and commerce, personal computers invaded the home and brought lots of new users and a much broader set of applications such as video games, creating a much noisier environment. Such innovation sounds wonderful, but it surely threatens to dash lesser men on the rocks like the proverbial songs of the sirens. For example, as Bill Gates has pointed out this expansion of application is not necessarily the same thing as world changing innovation, capitalism can be great at addressing lots of banal mundane problems such as "male baldness", but terrible at solving big communal problems which don't enrich individuals or require cooperation, such as Malaria and Climate Change. For example, as Steve Jobs has pointed out, instead of keeping watch over the community, capitalism can toast the world by filling our lives with porn (thinking teleologically about personality types, perhaps that's why lovers of capitalism, such as the Puritans, are so sensitive to moral purity when they're healthy).

In Plato's famous Symposium dialogue Alcibiades drunkenly described the words of the great Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates as rather like hallow statues which open up to wise men capable of looking behind the surface revealing golden statues of the gods, but Socrates himself sternly advised us to begin our philosophical odyssey by "knowing nothing", and of course there is nothing both more insufferable and dangerous than a bad philosopher pontificating about history, but we could take a risk and point out that one of the famous relationships philosophers like to think about is that between the architect and builder, and although both are needed to create a building, we can say perhaps the first is a natural King Catholic style with an eye on the big communal picture, and the second a manly General with his ear to the ground Puritan style, and when you put builders in charge of the world instead of architects they will cut costs and deliver more homes and give ordinary people what they want, but their lack of vision can create a very short term shallow and gridlocked world - most of all an ugly world - in need of a whole new paradigm.

So perhaps we can summarise by saying that the end of the mainframe paradigm was celebrated by the masses not only because it destroyed the unworthy incumbent monopolist IBM, but also because it was accompanied by an explosion of functionality which changed the world so that ordinary kids were brought up playing games and smart kids were brought up building computers and writing code. But it's also a classic example of a bottom up not top down revolution, instead of academics building the sci-fi like networked mainframe PLATO system out to humanity, the revolution pulled everything down and started again from people's garages, and the IBM monopoly was simply replaced with the Microsoft monopoly, and some of the stuff the PC era brought with it such as games and flaky personal operating systems is of questionable value, and in some important ways PCs arguably set back the development of modern internet like technology by fifteen years, and PCs have probably created a much messier uglier and more dangerous internet that the elite academics would have. And we should add to our summary by pointing out that the 1982 paradigm change from mainframes to PCs occurred because there was a kind of political unification that by setting one standard allowed everyone to compete doing their own thing, and Microsoft's operating system was at the heart of the political unification and acted a sort of single currency gold standard making it all possible.

1984 Apple Macintosh, first popular GUI computer:
 
Apple Mac 1984

Although IBM PCs running MSDOS dominated the market, Apple will be forever remembered as the innovative company behind the first mass market GUI based computer.

Steve Jobs, co owner of Apple Computers, visited Xerox in 1979 and saw a demonstration of an experimental mouse based GUI running on the Alto. He instantly realised that graphical interfaces controlled by a mouse are superior to text based interfaces controlled by keys, and he rushed back to Apple saying he had seen the future and they needed to get working on it right away. The engineers at Xerox were excited by their interface work, but they hadn't really understood the potential of a mouse controlled GUI. When Steve Jobs saw the newly released Star 8010 in 1981 he instantly knew Xerox had dropped the ball. The computer's mouse couldn't move diagonally, it didn't have overlapping windows, nor even dialogue boxes, and its operating system still revolved around keyboard commands. Apple were working on something far more revolutionary, and it took them many years and many millions of dollars to perfect the technology. In a sense the Xerox engineers had just stumbled across a very roughly drawn picture of the future, and Steve Jobs was the genius visionary who screamed eureka the instant he saw it, and then dedicated himself and his company to making it a fully functional and polished reality. In 1983 Apple finally released their first GUI based computer, unfortunately the "Lisa" was a very expensive machine targeted at business and academia which proved to be a commercial failure. However, a year later Apple launched their now famous "Macintosh" computer for consumers which started out with relatively modest sales but eventually became a great success.
 
Although Apple remained a niche player in the personal computer market, it should be remembered that the IBM PC was a sort of meteor that hit the earth and wiped almost all other competing life, in fact Apple was essentially the single survivor of this dramatic evolutionary event.

Before GUIs, users relied on complicated key combinations and typed commands to control computers. Steve Jobs focused on bringing computers to the masses by making them friendly, fun and easy to use - for example by making the desktop resemble a physical desk with a trash can and file folders (skeuomorphism) - and he succeeded. If we think again about the Mainframe vs PC debate, we said mainframes seemed at one time a "more efficent and powerful solution", also "easier to use and more stable", and "better connected together". The IBM PC compatibles competed against the mainframes in the first efficiency category, now Apple competes against the IBM PC in the second stability and ease of use category, and, of course, just as the stars move though the heavens in beautiful orbits, it seems that the battleground today is increasingly moving toward the third better connected together point.

In 1985, before the success of the Macintosh was clear, Apple's board of directors forced 30 year old Steve Jobs to resign. The Lisa had failed, Apple was loosing ground in word-processing, there had been disagreements over costs and the hyperactive Jobs had become very hard to work with. In 1997 Apple brought Jobs back when it purchased NeXT.

1984 Mac GUI:
 

 
Screenshot of the included MacPaint
 

 
The development of the GUI made the Apple Mac popular for Graphical Desktop Publishing, but the IBM PC clone was still able to maintain market dominance. Meanwhile Microsoft worked on a GUI of it's own, and in 1985 it released an add-on to MSDOS called 'Windows 1.0'. However, this first version of Windows came with no useful compatible applications and its general functionality was limited by legal challenges from Apple (eg no overlapping windows). After defeating the law suites (Bill Gates defended them with the claim “hey you copied from Xerox”) it was able to release the much improved Windows 2.0 in 1987. That same year, two important programs written to work with Windows 2.0 were released: Microsoft Excel and Desktop Publisher Aldus PageMaker (the latter had previously only been available on the Apple Mac). Some computer historians date the release of PageMaker, the first appearance of a significant and non-Microsoft application for Windows, as the beginning of the success of Windows.
 
1987 Windows 2.0
 
 
 
It is interesting to compare the GUIs at this stage.
 
Windows could run applications side by side and had minimization and maximization buttons. Although the $10k Apple Lisa supported multiple applications, up until Operating System 7 in 1991 the Macintosh could only run one application at a time (like the early iPhone - no multitasking).
 
Apple applications shared a common menu bar in a fixed location at the top of the screen - a design which remains today. Windows, by contrast, demanded each window maintain its own interface. The Apple approach probably made sense at the time, especially on a machine that can only run one process at a time. However, as the world has progressed to big screens running multiple applications in side by side windows, the Apple approach has stopped making sense because the menu bar is often nowhere near the rest of the application. Today, the Microsoft approach is the standard used by non Apple GUIs such as Linux etc.
 
Apple used the common menu bar at the top of the window to launch applications, but Microsoft instead chose a 'Program Manger' application that contained icon shortcuts to programs and other folders. The Microsoft approach allowed for the hierarchical organisation of large numbers of applications / shortcuts (which was not possible with the simple Apple Menu), but it also contributed to clutter and complexity as the user opened folder after folder in search of his target. In 1995 Microsoft completely replaced the Program Manger technique with the 'Start Menu'.
 
Apple adopted a friendly icon based approach to browsing the hard drive but Windows employed a vertical tree based application called File Manager. The vertical tree approach is much more effective, but novice computer users often struggle to understand it. This difference is one of many that reflects a divergence of design philosophy in those early days - while Steve Jobs of Apple concentrated on making his system friendly and aesthetic, Bill Gates and the brilliant geeky programmers living on caffeine at Microsoft concentrated on power and technicalities.
 
To see the difference in aesthetic design compare two early text editor applications from Apple and Microsoft.
 

 

 
Steve Jobs named his first computer after his daughter Lisa because it was so easy to use. Looking at the screenshot above one wonders if Bill Gates could have used the same name for Windows 1.0, not because it was child’s play to use, but rather because it looked as if Steve's daughter ran his graphic design.

It should be said that although Apple and Microsoft were among the first to market, all the remaining vendors were also working on GUI at this time as well. The screenshot below shows an interesting example from a British company called Acorn. This GUI had something approaching a task bar showing active applications, an idea that would make its way into the Windows and Apple GUI some years later.
 
1987 Arthur OS, A GUI with task bar
 

 
Another interesting GUI comes from NeXT. After leaving Apple Steve Jobs founded NeXT and started developing very trendy, powerful and expensive Unix workstations. His first GUI is pictured below, it shows a 3D effect on the windows, icons and menus. Two years later Microsoft adopted a 3D look as well.
 
1988 NeXT GUI with 3D looking Windows and Icons
 

 
Both IBM PC Hardware and the Microsoft Windows GUI suffered one huge disadvantage compared to the Macintosh – they needed to retain complete backwards compatibility with older software. As a result it wasn’t until the advent of the powerful Intel 386 processor and the release of Windows 3.0 that Microsoft’s GUI really took off.
 
1990 Windows 3.0
 

 
1991 Apple’s System 7
 

 
1992 Microsoft Windows 3.11
 

 
Of course, the popularity of Windows went hand in hand with the availability of Windows applications. Perhaps Microsoft’s most remarkable feat was to leverage the GUI skills acquired whilst developing Windows in the production of Spreadsheets and Word Processors.
 
The screenshot below shows the first version of Excel released in 1987 for Windows 2.0 which completely outclassed the market leading Lotus123 spreadsheet both in terms of GUI and core functionality. Almost overnight Lotus started loosing market share and within a few years it was no more than a memory. Lotus was the largest software company in the world and the spreadsheet was the most complex and profitable program around. Yet Microsoft steamrolled right over it with the first release. Remarkable.
 
1987 Excel 2.0 for Windows
 

 
1988 Excel 2.1. The start of the grey borders and 3D effect.
 

 
1991 Excel 3.0. The first application to use a modern toolbar
 

 
By contrast, in 1991 Word Perfect released Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS and Word Perfect 5.1 for Windows. Word Perfect was the biggest application of it's day, but its GUI version was both late to market and outclassed by Word. The screen shot below shows the famous but complicated 'Reveal Codes' feature which was rendered essentially obsolete by WYSIWYG editing.
 
1991 & 1992 Word Perfect
 
 
 

 
The table below shows the market share of Microsoft Word relative to its competitors. By 1993 WordPerfect was beaten, by 1997 Microsoft had captured a greater than 90% market share.
 

 
The Macintosh version of Word took market share away from competitors such as MacWrite even more quickly and more decisively. This is interesting because it’s inconsistent with the often repeated theory that Microsoft’s dominance stemmed only from insider knowledge of the underlying platform operating system. Insider knowledge was no help to Apple, first their MacWrite word processor's market share was burned by Word Perfect, then it was vaporised by MS Word.
 
Although Windows 3.1 was extremely popular it’s MSDOS heritage left it with several major flaws, not least of which was stability. For business users, who required less compatibility with legacy applications, especially games, Microsoft offered an alternative operating system called 'Windows NT' (Windows NT was released in July 1993 with a GUI very like regular Windows. Originally it was a cross platform 32 bit operating system, but the non Intel versions never caught on).

In 1995 Microsoft released an enormous upgrade that finally gave the home user a stable sophisticated modern mostly 32 bit operating system with protected memory and preemptive multitasking (features that would take another seven years to reach the Apple Mac).
 
1995 Windows 95
 


As well as huge under the hood improvements Windows 95 offered a radical new GUI. Microsoft introduced the 'Task Bar' which accomplished three things:

(1) The prominent 'Start Menu' at the far left of the Task Bar simplified launching programs or accessing OS features such as Control Panel. Instead of hunting for icons on the Desktop or in Program Manager all features were available in one easy to find place. Microsoft were proud of the Start Menu and it featured heavily in their advertising campaigns for Windows 95. Although the Start Menu has been a great success, novice users have never found it as easy to customize or navigate as the desktop and often continue to store some programs or documents there.

(2) Most early GUIs, including ones from Apple and Microsoft, minimized running programs to icons on the desktop where they could be lost amongst similar looking icons, or hidden from view by windows running on top of them. The task bar rectified this problem by putting all running programs into one highly visible place.

(3) The Task Bar also featured a system tray where users could see the clock and system applications.

Today the task bar with start menu, running applications and system tray is the standard used by both the latest Microsoft & Linux GUIs. It’s notable that while Microsoft was prepared to completely junk its Program Manager interface and replace it with a start menu & task bar, Apple only reluctantly and gradually added a task bar to their system over the next several years. Such a bold design decision testifies to Microsoft's famously aggressive tendancy to innovate, assimilate, copy and redesign which was surely one of the principle factors behind the company's meteoric rise during the 1980s and 1990s.

Such extreme willingness to change, such open-mindedness and avoidance of dogma and ideology, is highly unusual. For example, in a 1983 Television program called the Apple Macintosh Dating Game, Bill Gates is asked by Steve Jobs "Will Macintosh become the third industry standard?" Bill Gates answers: "To create a new standard it takes something that is not just a little bit different, it takes something that is really new and really captures people's imagination, and the Macintosh is of all the machines I have ever seen the only one that meets that standard." What comes across in that TV program is the total intellectual honesty of the young geeky Bill Gates, it's not about money or Microsoft, it's about computers. That young carefree Bill Gates was the sort of person who believed in nothing, if you could prove him wrong he would change, he had no ego and all that mattered was the product. These days Microsoft has lost that early association with dynamic light heartedness and open mindedness, instead it is occasionally described as a rather frightening company run by Kool-Aid drinking tyrants whose hubris has condemned them to eventual nemesis. Most companies develop into big heavy narrow minded beasts as they as they grow, because wealth and power undermine idealism creating vested interests across the organization, and these interests turn away from truth and justice and the pain of self knowledge, and begin egotistically clinging to their outdated philosophies, preventing wisdom, corrupting decision making, and eventually bringing existential failure.

Yet for all the great success, Windows 1995 also perhaps marked the fateful beginning of a new era at Microsoft in which it began to dumb down functionality in order to make products easier to use or better looking - the beginning of a transfer of power away from engineering to marketing - the beginning of power user disillusionment - the beginning of Microsoft's geeky crowd centric populism out of which Vista later sprung. For example, in Windows 95 Microsoft started hiding the tree inside their file open dialogues. Novice users can be a bit overwhelmed by the tree, but it is a very powerful feature and hiding it dramatically reduces functionality.

Windows 3.11 File Open showing tree



Windows 95 File Open - With tree removed



Shortly after Windows 95, Apple released System 7.5. This release had the codename Capone, which was a reference to the gangster who terrified Chicago – Chicago being Microsoft’s codename for Windows 95.
 
1996 Mac System 7.5.3. Notice the bottom 'control strip', the beginning of the Apple task bar
 

 
 
Apple may have nicknamed their operating system Capone, but in truth their market share had peaked at 12% in 1992 and had been in decline ever since. The advent of Windows 95 only heralded an acceleration of that process. See the pink line on the chart below – notice the increased rate of decline after 1995.
 

 
By 1997 Apple were is crisis and Steve Jobs, who had left years earlier to found NeXT, was brought back to rescue the company. Shortly after his arrival a new operating system was released.
 
1997, Mac OS 8
 

 
A year later in 1998 Microsoft released 'Windows 98'. It offered improved stability and hardware support but had few GUI changes. No screenshot is shown here.
 
Also in 1998 Steve Jobs of Apple Mac introduced the iMac. Although technically unimpressive both in terms of hardware and operating system it featured a new translucent plastic exterior, originally in Bondi Blue, but later many other colours. The iMac proved phenomenally successful, selling close to 800,000 units in its first five months and significantly boosting the company's revenue and profitability. Thanks to the iMac, fiscal 1998 was Apple's first profitable year since 1993. The iMac is now considered an industrial design icon of the late 90s. In 2001 the launch of the iPod further contributed to the popularity of the Apple brand and it’s PCs.
 
1998 The Stylish iMac Drove Sales
 

 
2001 Mac OS X

 

In 2001 Apple Mac released a brand new fully 32 bit modern operating system with a Unix-like core. This new version did not offer backward compatibility with older software but it has still proven a great success. To me, Windows 95/98, with it's angular and heavy grey 3D borders and controls, feels very bleak and dated compared to this new Apple GUI.

In terms of GUI functionality, however, many power user were much less impressed. Microsoft had long dominated OS and Application GUI design, but the near dead Apple still resisted too obviously copying. Perhaps Steve Jobs felt he could not be seen to be copying Microsoft; but BMW would never balk at fitting innovations such as anti-lock braking systems to their cars just because Mercedes got there first. For example: Microsoft had three buttons on the right of each windows for maximization, minimization and close. Apple added three buttons to the left but bizarrely altered their behaviour (Mac users generally have to close applications with Apple-Q). The bottom Dock came with huge icons and greatly reduced functionality compared to the Windows 95/98 task bar. Apple also passed up a chance to abandon its unorthodox common top menu bar, single button mouse, lack of a delete key, treeless path browsing etc.

Microsoft called OS X a "toy", but it became an increasingly popular toy.

2001 Apple iPod



Apple is sometimes accused of emphasising "form over function". Given that Apple's primary market is the home user or SoHo designer this is perhaps natural - but some accuse Apple of taking the process too far. Perhaps the single most damming case against Apple revolves around the iPod, and to understand the charge one needs to begin by understanding the history. Steve Jobs wanted to move Apple into consumer electronics instead of just computers, and he studied the Sony Walkman and set out to create the digital audio player (DAP) equivalent. The Sony Walkman wasn't the world's first personal cassette player, but it was the first personal player that was both extremely well executed and marketed. Sony's 1979 advertisements portrayed the excellence of Japanese engineering and craftsmanship, bringing together technology, miniaturization, quality and aesthetics. Sony advertisements also portrayed the device as culturally hip, connecting with popular culture, youthfulness, movement, freedom. The device became enormously popular, and it is still widely regarded as one of the most influential consumer electronics products in history.

Steve Jobs wasn't the only person who could see that DAPs would one day take over the world, but it was an emerging technology and many large companies were afraid of the legal questions surrounding both pirate music and CD ripping, and the implications for CD sales. So the DAP market was still very much in its infancy when Apple launched the iPod in October 2001. The existing DAP hardware companies were tiny start-ups, and software for ripping CDs was very cumbersome. Apple combined both beautiful hardware with easy to use CD ripping and music management software, creating the first really desirable DAP. Apple's fame and impressive marketing opened the general public's hearts and minds, turning a geeky niche into the biggest product of the day. Two years later Apple opened the first electronic music store, saving users the hassle of ripping their CDs, making the iPod far more practical, and locking users into the Apple universe with proprietary copy protected file formats (years later Apple switched to an open system under pressure from regulators). Steve Jobs had succeeded in producing the next Sony Walkman, the iPod transformed his company and made him into the King of Consumer Electronics. To a certain extent it was a lucky break-- depending perhaps on how much one thinks Steve Jobs was really calculating to take over the word compared with how much one thinks he was just trying to make up for the fact he couldn't get the newly invented writable CD technology in brightly coloured plastic drives for the iMac and needed to give his users an alternative new technology to play with-- but when he repeated the trick a few years later with the iPhone, the first really desirable smartphone, the world was left in no doubt as to his genius.

Yet behind the glossy exterior, both the iPod and the iPhone offer inferior sound quality compared to old fashioned Sony CD Walkmans. For example, I have personally conducted a series of blind listening tests on classical music tracks at dinner parties in my home, testing an iPod, an iPhone, a Sony NW-HD5 personal digital audio player, an expensive hi-fidelity special edition Sony CD Walkman, a Yamaha CDRHD1500 Home Hard Drive Player, and a very expensive high end Marantz CD Player. How did I do the tests? I ripped a CD of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Horowitz playing the piano to a lossless audio format, started all my devices at the same point, then switched the analogue AUX input of my hifi randomly between devices, playing the output though my QUAD speakers. People found the hardware largely indistinguishable, with the exception of the iPod and iPhone. Even people in their 70s rapidly singled out and condemned Apple's audio quality which blatantly lacks depth and richness. People listening to popular music don't notice sound quality, but iPods and iPhones are expensive high end devices, there is no financial or technical reason for them to employ inadequate audio circuitry. It is ironic that the Sony Walkman was designed by a Japanese engineer who wanted to listen to Opera on the train, but I can't enjoy Opera on my iPod or iPhone because the audio quality just isn't good enough.

Vague accusations of shallowness are regularly hurled at Apple, especially by power users who complain Apple's software is written for Kids instead of Kings, but its failure to produce devices that sound as good as the old King Sony, is, I think, the most devastating charge laid against Apple greatness. How can we sum it up in single sentence? Perhaps "Apple's idealism is skin deep, the products look good on the surface, but deep down they are not building real products for real professionals that get the job done, unlike the true master of Samurai Sword making they are not really thinking about gods and war, but are in a sense instead building fake swords that look very beautiful, but only sweep the facebook and twitter bourgeoisie off their feet, and leave real pros frustrated and empty." The great exception to that rule is the quality of their visual displays because Steve Jobs is obsessive about colours and visual design.

To be fair, it's not just Apple, the world today is far less professional that it was in the past, the old German / Japanese obsession with "truth and justice and dehumanized science" has given way to a sort of bohemian and geeky culture in which product design is all about crowd perceptions rather than real craftsmanship and perfectionism. Fifty years ago everyone talked about the detrimental impact of mass production on product durability. Today the problem is that the consumerization of technology has had a detrimental impact on functionality because the marketing managers and advertising executives running the company are targeting kids and consequently building tat. Understand that in the old days when sales were driven by professional users, customer feedback ensured the product stayed on track, but today nobody cares about the power user because they are such a small segment of the market, and all the technology consequently drifts downhill.

2001 Windows XP
 
 

A significant upgrade to the Windows system also came in 2001 with the release of Windows XP. This version offered a fully 32 bit core, many new security features and a convergence of home and business versions (no more Windows NT).
 
The GUI changed as well - look at the rather childlike fonts and colours which attempt to present a much warmer, friendlier and "more fun" environment. Windows XP's default install also came with all sorts of gimmicky new features such as 'Web Folders' which all corporate users and power users instantly disabled.

This really sums up the idea we were talking about a moment ago with the iPod - namely "the consumerization of technology has had a detrimental impact on functionality because the marketing managers running the company are targeting kids and consequently building tat".

Think about web folders, treeless file managers, hidden file extensions, hidden menu options in Office XP, and all other such 'innovations'. The truth is they are tatty ideas targeted at kids and hated by serious users. We live in a bizarre world in which the smartest users no longer drive the product design, instead product design is controlled by marketing bozos who are clueless about serious product funcationality and instead aim at whatever they think gives children pleasure.

Ultimately these gimmicks constantly fail because they are not what a philosopher would call "wise", but rather "bohemian" nick knacks for ignorant users. Also, of course, because the marketing bozos are clueless about product they can't provide any kind of technical leadership, so even though they make it simple on the surface it actually gets more tangled underneath. For example, in the computer industry we could talk about tyrant CEOs who delegate all the wrong things, micro managing trivial stuff about fonts and icons whilst at the same time avoiding the really strategic technical choices such as programming languages and inter-process communications which are the big fascinating parts of computer science. The end result is that we get simple looking operating systems that are either hopelessly underpowered and built quickly by a couple of guys on a sunny afternoon, or hopelessly riddled with security flaws and built slowly by thousands of guys in a dark moon lit office.

The political equivalent is the Prime Minister who spends all day reading the news on his iPad and calling people in the bureaucracy into meetings about the trivial stories making headlines in the press, but never sits down and debates fundamental economic models or ethical choices or social cohesion. We call such people blind because they have no vision of how things evolve (eg the liberal captain of the Titanic who lets the children run free thinking nothing needs to be done), but also deaf because even though they are working in the moment they can't distinguish the deep currents in the debate (eg the conservative officer who sticks woodenly to tradition even though the ship is sinking), and also tasteless-smelless because they can't make the connection between the failure in the machine and the failure in the man who made it (eg the conspiracy theorist who imagines sin in everyone and constructs bizarre coincidences).

Here is my desktop (I still run XP on most of my machines):


 
The image above shows the typical power user setup. There are no icons on the desktop, the start menu is set to classic mode and has been extensively customized, the system tray has no superfluous icons, IE7 has been setup to show menus and the search box has been replaced with the google toolbar, windows explorer is running instead of my computer, the desktop is stripped of icons etc. This is the right way to run Windows XP, but most people in the world never get to experience life in this way because the marketing managers at Microsoft inundate the default install with ghastly junk food. Setting up Windows XP properly is a sort of specialist skill that requires leaning many registry hacks and other tricks. It shouldn't be like this - if Microsoft was run by people who really understood their product instead of marketing managers - it would be beautiful be default. Microsoft's real problem is that greed and an upside down corporate culture have plunged it into a world of geeky populist bohemianism. Even though Steve Jobs is consumer centric, he prevents Apple falling into the Microsoft tat trap because he is an elitist about aesthetics, yet Apple is not immune, as Apple's underpowered software and poor sound quality demonstrate. 

2005 OS X Tiger

Notice the 'system tray' or 'menu extra' icons running at the far right of the top menu bar.

2007 Windows Vista

 

As I write this in December 2007 Vista has just celebrated its first anniversary. It is thought to be the worlds largest software project to date - estimated at 10,000 employees working for five years - perhaps a $10billion spend.

Apple Mac’s share of the home market has increased substantially in 2007. It’s clear that the Apple brand is going from strength to strength with increasing awareness and trust in its stylish products. Many people now believe: (a) Apple is better looking (b) Apple is easier to use (c) Apples crash less and don't get viruses (d) PC’s are for geeks who don’t mind tearing their hair out for days on end fighting with config files and driver patches etc.

Look at the average home user’s Windows PC and you usually find a mass of icons running in the system tray and programs such as Norton Anti-Virus crippling the machine. Personally I often find friends of mine have a PC problem they need help with – for example, a few weeks ago a friend couldn’t play CDs. It took me half an hour to figure out the problem - put one in the machine and three programs were trying to play the CD simultaneously resulting in strange clicking noises. The mass of poor quality software available and installed on PCs often makes them very unreliable and frustrating devices.

Vista did not solve these problems – in fact it made them worse. Vista turned out to be nightmare of software and hardware compatibility issues. Even famous application such as Windows Live Messenger, iTunes, Visual Studio 2005 and Outlook 2003 failed to run fully or at all under Vista and had to be patched. Although users were encouraged to upgrade an existing install of XP to Vista, doing so was fraught with problems and should probably never have even been allowed. Even brand new laptops running Vista and shipped by Sony turned out to be unstable. These enormous problems hugely fuelled the perception that Windows is unreliable and Apple Mac is a better choice. Apple even capitalized on the Vista problems by running advertising campaigns deriding Vista (eg "Apple - It just works").

The new Aero interface won some fans but it was no Mac OS X killer. Only Windows Media Centre really demonstrated the power of the fast GUI technology introduced into Vista. But Media Centre typifies the Vista experience. Every set top box I have ever seen shows as many channels as possible when one is browsing and fills the screen because this is the users vital navigation window onto the world - but the bozos Microsoft squandered almost all the screen and only bothered showing only seven channels - imagine a map program made by an idiot tyrant who thinks his interface is more important than your hiking - he will give you a great big case filled with his designs and squash your map into a little box in the middle.



Not only does Media Centre stupidly show only seven channels at a time, no matter how sexy the interface may be, it is undeniably hard to navigate. So here Microsoft is sacrificing both power and simplicity in order to jazz up the product. Do you understand? When Steve Jobs talked about "bozos who know nothing about the product running the design" he is talking about exactly this kind of thing. Stop and think very carefully about this Media Centre example because it's really at the heart of the Microsoft vs Apple debate.

How can you really grasp the insanity of this Media Centre screen shot so powerfully it shakes you out of the slumber ordinary people live in and turns you into a budding philosopher? Ancient Greek philosophers emphasise the concept of "being". The "being" or "form" of a space suit is the thing the space engineer looks toward when he produces space suits. For example, it's not a perfect description, but perhaps we can say a space suit allows the astronaut to be in space, but also separates him from space protecting the body inside, a little like the skin of the human body. As the technology evolves space suits will get closer and closer to that perfect goal, but today they are still very clunky. But now think of Moon Boots, the earthly footwear first created in the early 1970s by an Italian clothes designer, and which became a notable fashion trend throughout the 1980s. These aren't made for astronauts by space engineers, in a sense they are like the toys that parents make for their children, they are not made by looking at the immortal unwavering form of the true space boot, but by looking at the clunky space suits today's scientists are making, and looking at how ordinary people without expertise perceive that earthly spacesuit reflected though their own eyes, and so the Moon Boot's purpose is perhaps to make the person wearing them feel a bit like an astronaut, or something like that.

Philosophers throughout history have warned that the liberal arts is famously dangerous because it can pull the world away from being towards sheep herd populist fashion. Style and rhythm, said Socrates in the Rebublic, should always follow the words and imitate only the good man. Think about Media Player above, think about the way it only shows seven lines, do you see it's as muddle headed as one of Shakespeare's speeches? The words have become an after thought fitted around the style, the whole thing wows children but revolts serious men. Think about the sort of slick "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well" thespian trendiness of Shakespeare's style. Many wise men such as Tolstoy have pointed out that Shakespeare is like an Emperor who is naked and flea bitten beneath his frilly frock cloak, who impresses the shallow self conscious literary bourgeoisie, but leaves real philosophers cold. If you look past the flowery words at the actual content it's full of philosophical self contradictions, it bears no relation to how anyone in the real world actually behaves but rather lives in a totally unreal artificial and absurd world, and it's utterly spiritually bankrupt and self obsessed with no moral content at all. Think about Microsoft's Media Center GUI, it makes no sense by showing only seven lines, it doesn't live in a real world of real people doing real things but rather an imaginary world full of people having fun and showing off, and it's totally immoral because it shoves this nonsense down everyone's throat.

We have talked about how style does not follow form, think hard now about the second idea that liberal artists should only be allowed to imitate good man. Realise that when you look at someone's artistic creation what you pick up on is that persons psychology, imagine a magnetic energy moving the iron in your blood, and at the unconscious level you are left permanently slightly changed by that experience, and that is why great statesmen such as Fredrick the Great used elite cultural forces to make their people more civilized. Now in the same sort of way children have bad taste, so immature adults have poor taste, and because the poor tend to be more ignorant, in a capitalist society we get a sort of Walmart vs Harrods effect which occurs as the respective designers aim at whatever pleases their customers, and you can see this effect in everything the respective companies do from their fonts, shapes, colours etc etc. So for example, in a capitalist society the elite feel disgusted by Walmart design and the poor feel intimidated by Harrods design. Think about the way Steve Jobs and the stylish crowd at Apple always laugh at the ugly special buttons and stickers PC Laptop manufactures insist on adding to their machines. Nerds and losers, the Apple elitists joke, loves stickers on their PCs, the bigger and more colourful the better, and they treasure them throughout the lifetime of the product. However, this ghastly design has a negative impact on the people and destroys civilization. What I am trying to show you is that Microsoft are not imitating the good man, neither brilliant computer scientists nor Microsoft's best customers would choose these GUI designs, they are like the liberal artist who uses as his muse not heros but Walmart people. How can we summarise it? Something like "Designed by geeks for simpletons" - "Walmart GUI" - "Bozo GUI". Plato said democracy is followed by tyranny, and one way to understand that idea is to contemplate Microsoft, and think about how their GUI shreds the minds of their users and creates civil wars between stylish people and common people. In the story of Microsoft vs Apple there is surely some kind of great tragedy, like the legend of Oedipus which occurred in a harsh and leaderless world that allowed the animal part of the soul to rise up and kill it's superego father and wallow in the emotions of it's mother, building something which is both an anathema to the gods and a failure that gives birth to cripples. Perhaps it reminds us of the Pillars of Hercules and two types of forbidden knowledge, one from Microsoft and one from Apple, they seem so different but like brother and sister they do the same thing, and one appears in the sky in the morning and one in the evening.

Here is another example: 



Beyond the horrible fonts and oversized Fisher Price controls and ghastly waste of screen space, notice the lack of conventional menu bar in this screen shot of Windows Photo Gallery. Removing the menu bar isn't like the fonts and colours etc, it doesn't make men of taste instantly recoil to the ugly artistic energy, it just destroys the technical functionality - like the Apple GUI that looks good but doesn't do what you need. So the populist salesmen-designers who hijack the product don't just make it poisonous to the soul, by turning away from the "being" they also make the product totally irrational.

Here is a quote from www.zabkat.com where a replacement for Microsoft's Windows Explorer called Xplorer2 is sold:

For a long time leading to the release of Vista, I was afraid that it would be the end of xplorer². As it turned out, quite the opposite has happened. All of a sudden the most popular search keyword is "vista explorer replacement" driving early adopters to my website... Where the hell is the menu bar in Vista's explorer? That must be the nadir of improvement ideas... But I can't complain :)

Forcing a user to change, especially if he thinks it is for the worse, may upset him intensely. The individual may feel as if his freedom has been violated. In his unconscious Microsoft becomes an evil arrogant oppressor. Remember the Coca-Cola Classic debacle.

But in Microsoft's case it's fascinating to think about where the hate is coming from. Realise it's very much coming from the elite not from the masses. For example, Microsoft's marketing department have famously complained that their products are being held back by criticism from "elite opinion formers", and they boast that according to their research their products are particularly popular with "women". But realise how perfectly ridiculous and worthless this defence is! Understand that it's the experts who are at the epicentre of "being", and it's the housewives who fall for "non-being" "cave wall" garbage. Take a look at Office Ribbon, it's absolutely panned by power users, but lapped up by clueless housewives and children and hacks. Look let's do a thought experiment. Imagine yourself going out and finding three god like men: The first god is the world expert in Excel, but not a book writer, rather the world's most powerful power user who has built the world's most advanced rocket science spreadsheet. The second god is the world expert in C++, but not somebody who made a billions dollars writing Angry Birds, rather the sort of genius developer whose code is literally a work of art, like Bill Gates in his early days. The third god is the world expert in GUI design philosophy, but not an ordinary academic who studies fashions, rather the sort of guru companies around the world hire to get advice on the science of usability. Now that you have collected these three gods in your mind, imaging asking them what think they of Microsoft's latest GUI. Perhaps you don't know enough about all this to do that, but you can trust me 100% on this: They will tell you they despise what's happened to Microsoft, and if you wanted to raise an army to go to war on Microsoft, they would probably join right up and risk their life, because assuming these three men really are gods not autistic geeks, they will be able to see the injustice and ugliness of Microsoft's products more clearly than anyone else in the world and it will drive them wild. But now imagine yourself going out and finding one of the millions of women Microsoft's marketing department worship, women who have never written a line of code in their life and who tinker around writing shopping lists in Word, and ask them what they think of the Office Ribbon, and perhaps they'll say they like the colours or something, but in a limp wristed way without any passion at all, because they are not astronauts who want to go to the moon with the product, and in fact they would probably have more fun using a flowery notepad App, so it just doesn't matter to them. That doesn't make those women worthless, but it makes what Plato called "the sophist", meaning poet or unscientific philosopher, who sets out with nothing in mind but how to flatter them worthless.

Regulators in the EU fine Microsoft vast sums of money for little things to do with search engines, why do they do nothing about this absolutely enormous injustice tearing apart civilization which has been created by the greedy marketing men running the monopolies? It's not a conspiracy, if we were looking for a personal failing it would probably be a sort of ideologically slavish lack of philosophical insight combined with a cowardly inability to fight wars, but that doesn't mean they have, so to speak, taken the tyrannical step of locking the princess away in the tower hiding her from any white knight because they want her for their unworthy selves. In other words it's still ignorance not wickedness that really controls the world today. As Socrates said in the Republic, until the wise rule there will be no end to injustice, rival lovers will fight for power like cats and dogs. Look, you can tell how smart the regulators are by reading the press. Have you ever read an article like this one in the press that laid out the philosophical case against Microsoft? Lot's of people care about injustice and beauty, for example the newspapers are full of stories about who is hurting the community and what kind of life we should lead, but they are not searching for a definition of justice and beauty, and using that definition when they have found it to analyse problems. For example, we said "at an unconscious level you are left permanently slightly changed by an artistic experience", but ask a musicologist to define the difference between the effect on the soul of Bach and Handel, and which music might be more suitable for a certain community today, and he will scratch his head. But this skill must exist because you don't need to be a guru to realise that Stravinsky has a feeling of wild abandon and Handel is more noble, yet imagine that skill raised to some great power so that a real musicologist could recommend what music will bring out the best in such and such country at such and such time. Without any of that philosophical skill there can be no regulators because nobody knows how to define or measure justice and beauty etc. That means we have to let go of trying to impose our own will on Microsoft by voting for democratic representatives and having them select lawyers to regulate Microsoft, because the lawyers know nothing about what is right and wrong in computer industry or cultural forces, instead we need to have faith in Microsoft to do the right thing. That sounds absurd, but only because you are mixing up in your mind the real Microsoft the philosopher thinks about and the cowboy Microsoft that exists today and which cares about nothing except money. For a philosopher capitalist "greed is good" is perfectly absurd, it gradually destroys the soul of any worshipper, turning him first into an arrogant abuser of monopoly, later an idle pimper of crappy products, finally a mad slavish fraudster. Instead we need to restructure Microsoft so that what drives it is "product excellence", and the art of statesmanship is incubating that culture in every organization, and it is not done with lawyers, it is done by teaching men such as Bill Gates a bit of philosophy.

How do we get Bill Gates to turn Microsoft around and focus on the "being"? The most obvious solution is to ask him to think the opposite way to the marketing managers who do opinion polls and weight everyone equally like a democracy. We need to say forget popularity and marking fashions and forecasts and shareholders, think only about "product excellence" and have faith in light triumphing over darkness in the end. Long ago people understood that the feedback of a top power user is worth infinitely more than the feedback of some kid on the street. For example, the company North Face, a manufacturer of hiking equipment, is very involved with expeditions and explorers. Many companies think sponsorship is all about marketing, but the real gold in sponsorship is in product design. In the old days companies used to compete for the attention of the Royal family, so the Royals became their vision of perfection which motivated their product design. In the same sort of way, although in a more empirical rather than sentimental sense, by competing for the love of the most serious hikers in the world North Face design their equipment to withstand the rigours of expeditions, and that means they build perfection. Walmart's own brand hiking equipment impersonates North Face, competing for the love of crowd. Like the moon boots their products look the same but would fall to pieces on a real expedition, like the moon boots they don't go for the tranquil designs loved by professionals, they add some of the garish colours we associate with Japanese schoolgirls. Understand that this Walmart product design focus on crowds instead of professionals survives only so long as it find some way to stay professional, but as it starts to add more and more garish colours in the lust for nothing but money it looses everything scientific and becomes a witch doctor that concentrates on nothing but cosmetics and fashions yet not in any kind of deep philosophical way but rather making all decisions by pure gut feel knack. As it looses it's professionalism it start to outsource everything stripping the organization of all rigorous scientific expertise and turning it into a liberal arts witch doctor company earning all it's money from fluffy brand value that can suddenly go up in a pup of smoke like the Hewlett Packard PCs. So capitalism is a curse that turns organizations back to front and hallows out their mind, if a company surrenders to capitalism it pumps up like a man on steroids but the long term effects are disastrous on the soul, it's a sort of slippery stream that ends up in a world of garbage dreamt up mindlessly by a bozo CEO and produced by overseas experts, and one days it revolts everyone and implodes driving the insane CEO to falsify the accountants.

The solution then? Banish the marketing men and accountants and lawyers, put scientists in change, and ask top power users such as NASA and the NSA and Goldmans what they like and what they don't like and focus on that. For example, if Microsoft or Apple had done that years ago we would have proper ultra secure operating system impervious to viruses instead of just this fashion shows of new GUI designs.

Mac OS X Leopard



Unlike Windows, which sees a major release every three to four years, new releases of Apple's OS X are much more incremental. Each yearly release usually carries a few headline improvements and lots of little tinkerings. After the many problems Microsoft experienced with Vista it is also now considering adopting a more frequent and less groundbreaking release schedule.

Designed to compete with Vista one of the things most noticeable about Leopard upon first glance is the amount of new eye candy. The desktop is empty of icons - the first OS to make that move even though it's been an obvious step since Windows 95. The new Dock (or Task Bar) shown exploding on the right of the picture above, allows for a folder of documents / programs, thereby addressing some of the shortcoming of using the dock for application shortcuts. The new 'Finder', which is the Apple equivalent of Windows Explorer, is also shown in the picture above. It has a new iTunes style cover flow mode which takes the user about as far from the old fashioned tree as one can imagine.

Apple did not have time to rethink the security model, as Vista did, in this release. Other major omissions compared to Vista in this release include Media Centre and HD DVD support.

Windows 7 - Update August 2010

I have had a couple of emails asking me about a Windows 7 review. The truth is I don't use it and all I can offer is one small anecdote. A friend of mine brought round his horribly ugly HP laptop and I noticed he had Windows Updates turned off. I told him that was dangerous and turned them back on. After the updates installed the sound card didn't work. The driver was there but no sound. I searched around but all they had was XP drivers on the HP web site which I couldn't get to install. Despite being a power user who can knock up c++ applications I couldn't fix the problem. In fact, much to my embarrassment someone else figured out how to fix it, click on the driver and roll back. Nevertheless, it's nonsense, at the end of day Windows has become a total nightmare. For geeks like me fixing Windows problems and upgrading PCs used to be fun back in the old days, Microsoft Widows saved 'malekind' from boredom with a whole new hobby when automobiles got too complicated and too reliable. But I ran out of interest when Microsoft released Windows Vista, and when people come to me these days with a PC problem I just tell them to go out and buy a Mac. My sister went the Mac route when I stopped helping her out, she said it was like stepping out of hell. Later she thanked me for getting her to switch before she had kids, she said: my time is precious now!

Conclusion - Elitist Artists vs Bozo Geeks
 
Most people would say Steve Jobs has demonstrated the crucial role aesthetics and design play in public appeal. Just as huge PC Manufacturers such as IBM and DELL have failed to entice the public with designs as attractive as the iMac, Microsoft didn't succeeded in making Windows XP as trendy and stylish as it was technically effective. Steve Job's top down management style delivers a clarity of vision and aesthetic standard few technology companies can match. First the iMac, then the iPod, then the iPhone - how can competing tech giants fumble so often and so obviously? Microsoft, Google, Motorola and many other technology firms desperately need to think about the difference between Ferrari vs Star Trek.

At the same time, Steve Jobs for all his talent is still missing the target. As Plato said the style must follow the words, and while that's not so important in a t-shirt, it's very important in a computer. If Apple is to take the next step it has to stop simplifying things and stop concentrating on visual design, and start to focus more and more on serious products for expert users. It needs to find the "being" of perfection not the "style" of perfection. Ironically Steve Jobs is famous for saying American Capitalism is collapsing because marketing men who "know nothing about product" are running everything, and yet he himself wasn't really a product expert, just a guy with impeccable taste. Microsoft, on the other hand, is traditionally thought of as the more technically accomplished company better able to write complex products for power users, but it has absurdly thrown away all it's advantages by chasing Apple in the most appallingly downmarket way. It needs to put the product experts in back change, to rebuild the technical culture Microsoft had back in it's heyday.

Conclusion- Political Reflections

One fascinating aspect of the Windows vs Apple debate is the way it reflects some of the issues in the economic debate between free markets vs state capitalism. The following three points illustrate this:

1. The fecklessness of laissez-faire. Apple is famous for its closed hardware system, the PC is famous for open standards and competition. You would have thought we would all prefer an open system, but it can become chaotic. For example, Apple was able to build such an amazing iPhone because it owned both the software and hardware. This is another example of the famous Railway Privatization Problem in the UK which was designed to introduce competition but ended in chaos. A closed system is often associated with higher prices, but economies of scale can actually work to the advantage of a more monopolized market. Apple is gradually developing economies of scale no competitor can touch, what we are increasingly seeing today is a world in which Apple and its competitors sell their products at about the same price, but because Apple has economy of scale advantages it can offer a much higher quality product than its competitors. The biggest danger of a monopolized market is excessive prices, market prices settle at what consumers are willing to pay, whereas in a competitive market prices are supposed to converge on what it costs to produce. Lenin argued that free markets degenerate into monopolies earning excessive profits, but his collective ownership solution failed miserably. The trendy new theory on the block is Chinese State Capitalism which prevents companies from making excessive profits and abusing the market either by heavy handed regulation or state ownership.

2. The greed of laissez-faire. A key element of the Apple concept is the App Store which protects consumers from bad software. One of the problems with commercial software is that it tends to become, to some extent, mal ware. Look at Norton Anti Virus - my personal favorite example of a god awful product driven by commercial pressures. Norton pay lap top manufactures to include it on the machine. They make it as hard as they can to uninstall. They fill it with lots of junk features you don't actually need, but because you are not an expert, you can be tricked into thinking you do need. They love messages that pop up so you retain brand awareness. They report harmless things as malicious to trick you into thinking they are doing a great job. Office Ribbon is another example of the problem of commercial pressures. Disappointed that users were not bothering to upgrade Microsoft set up to create something totally different. The change was not driven by virtue, but by profit. The idea of capitalism is that it is efficient because the end user buys what maximizes his personal contentment. The complaint against capitalism is that the limited expertise and irrationality of consumers, combined with the selfish motives of producers, creates anomalies which destroy the utility maximizing process. Instead you end up with products that damage personal contentment.

3. The unprofessionalism of laissez-faire. Steve Jobs said that working with Wozniak taught him that the difference between a real expert and everyone else is, as far as that subject is concerned, like the difference between a “god” and a “shit head”. Steve Jobs sought to exploit this inequality by building an organization in which people are masters of themselves, but slaves to the community. In other words the world around them only interests itself in what they are capable of producing, and on the basis of this information it sets them set them production goals, and it gives them the freedom to accomplish their goal as they see fit. From the individual’s point of view, he has complete creative power over his own domain, but no creative power over anything outside himself. It's quite complex explaning how this works, on one side perhaps there are outlines and on the other side things that fill them in, but it's easy enough to understand that in a normal company people are crossing into each of spheres of expertise and over time management fills up with a bunch of unimaginative politicians who rely on the lower ranks and pretend to know everything about everything, and technical departments fill up with a bunch of would be politicians who want to run the whole show themselves. Steve Jobs imagined Apple as an efficient hive of bees minding their own business, he didn’t want a herd of group thinking sheep following each other round the field. The sheep herd’s failure to specialize, to mind one’s own business, creates both muddled thinking and wasteful duplication. I don't think Steve Jobs really mastered this kind of analysis because he emphasised a culture of secrecy and unquestioned authority in order to build the hive rather than a culture of expert debate, but he we surely quite a example to us all. What has all this to do with economics and politics? What we are saying here is that rational expectations and freedom of choice doesn’t work, the fundament capitalist idea that market price is the best measure of utility and competition is the best way to deliver it, is nonsense. The market price is just the sheep herds wavering opinion, and the stupidity of the herd derives from competitive duplication. In the same way democracy also fails.

These three arguments taken from the Apple-Microsoft example are insights into the wider debate swirling around the world today between the American and the Chinese economic models. Yet I am not suggesting authoritarian Apple should be boycotted in favour of democratic Windows/Linux. Wisdom, not ideology, should guide our purchasing. I don't mean by that scientific thinking instead of artistic feeling. Just as the sight of a beautiful picture generates positive feelings, for many people computers are aesthetic objects that bring joy to their lives, these aesthetic feelings are not what I mean by ideological. Yet wisdom I think goes beyond simple aesthetic feelings, for example I love my beautiful iPhone, but before the iPhone I had an old Nokia with a black & white display which, unlike modern mobiles, had no timeout. The long battery life, the functional display, and humble design were features I loved, and the strange thing is that the simple Nokia somehow seemed to me to become beautiful when more complex phones became more fashionable and nobody appreciated it anymore. Dogma and ideology are the refusal to open our mind to the choices before us and honestly compare relative merits with detachment. Plato argued that irrationality is inhibited love, this is why he described Socrates and Diptoma as living in a state of bliss, because they never allowed impurities to obscure the flow of understanding and lived in state of total love toward the good they perceived around them. Anyway, the Apple Microsoft debate is a fascinating one because it stirs up particularly passionate clouds of irrationality, much to delight of Apple's marketing team!

------------------------------
 
As a final though I leave you with some interesting screenshots showing the evolution of an Apple and Windows application over the years. It’s interesting to watch the aesthetic progression of our GUIs and to wonder what they mean about us and what the future years will hold.
 
1991 Mac
 

 
1997 Mac
 

 
2002 Mac
 


1985 Windows 1.0
 

 
1987 Windows 2.0
 

 
1990 Windows 3.0
 

 
1995 Windows 95
 

 
2001 Windows XP
 

 
2007 Windows Vista
 

 

Links:
 

Many thanks for ideas and images from these sources amongst others:

Lisa GUI Prototypes: http://home.san.rr.com/deans/prototypes.html

History of Windows, Apple, Apple OS etc: http://en.wikipedia.org
 
History of the GUI: http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/gui.ars
 
GUI Gallery: http://toastytech.com/guis/index.html
 
GUI Gallery: http://www.guidebookgallery.org
 
Personal Computer Market Share: http://www.pegasus3d.com/total_share.html