Windows PCs are used by the vast majority of computer users. Windows devices that aren’t PCs make up a tiny minority of the company’s offerings. Microsoft is doing all it can to change that and create an ecosystem where there once was just the PC. It remains to be seen whether they’re capable of doing so, and they’re certainly not there yet.
Benefits of the Microsoft ecosystem
Microsoft has the greatest “sameness” across all its devices. The Windows 8 interface, formerly called Metro, looks almost exactly the same on a Windows 8 PC, tablet, smartphone, and Xbox 360. Once you’ve mastered how to navigate through Windows 8 on one device, you can do it on all of them.
Windows PCs are also much cheaper than Apple’s, and you can generally get much greater performance for the money. This ecosystem is also the only one that supports touchscreen PCs.
Microsoft is still supporting Windows XP, which is more than 11 years old. That being said, the company will finally stop supporting XP in April of 2014, but that tells you how long you’ll be able to use a given Windows operating system securely and with the latest updates. Almost all Windows apps ever made work on full Windows Vista, 7, or 8 – only the specialized Windows 8 apps in the Microsoft Store are exclusive to Windows 8 … everything else works on Vista and 7.
Drawbacks of the Microsoft ecosystem
The Microsoft ecosystem is somewhat broken. A Windows Phone app is not the same as a Windows RT app for the Surface and neither is it the same as the corresponding app for a full Windows 8 machine. There’s no universal app, and there’s little support for syncing close-enough or similar apps across devices. Microsoft devices do share the same universal login idea as Google devices. Though the apps won’t carry over, once you log in to any
Microsoft device, many of your settings and preferences will.
The weak link in the Microsoft ecosystem is the phones. Windows 8 Phones just aren’t ready for prime time, and there’s one big reason for that: the app support just isn’t there. When key apps like Instagram, Facebook and Gmail aren’t included, and may never be, the phone becomes pretty useless. Sure, Windows 8 Phone has Facebook integration, but it’s not an official app and works poorly. Once the app support is there, Windows Phone may be able to stand up to Android or iPhone; but it may be too little, too late.
The new Windows Surface tablets offer Windows RT, which is a lighter version of Windows 8. Only Microsoft Office can live in the desktop mode on a Windows RT machine; no other apps can, nor can Windows 7 or earlier apps. The Windows Surface Pro is more expensive and can run the same Windows apps as a PC. So far, the built-in apps common to both a Windows tablet and a Windows 8 PC aren’t that useful. The Mail, Calendar, and Messaging apps are all really bare bones and are missing important features users have come to expect from apps like these, such as a Conversation Mode in the Mail app.
It’s worth mentioning that there are full Windows 8 tablets that cost less than the Surface Pro. A Windows 8 touchscreen laptop will likely give you a better value for your money, and will also have a physical keyboard.
The Windows PC does integrate well with Windows devices … but only if everything is running Windows 8. If not, the integration really isn’t anything special. There’s a “My Windows Phone” app for Windows 8 PCs that allows you to move media files around, share items from your phone to your PC, and save photos taken with the phone directly to the PC – but that’s not really the same thing as syncing the same apps across multiple devices like Android does, or having universal apps like iOS does.
Also, though Windows 8 looks the same across Windows 8 devices, the first time that Windows has been unified in this way, it’s really not the same experience underneath the visual surface. The apps are different, and compatibility is questionable. In fact, it’s valid to say that Windows PCs integrate better with Android or Apple devices than they do with Windows devices.
Though initially divergent, the Xbox 360’s operating system greatly resembles Windows 8. Using the SmartGlass app, available for any smartphone, you can use your phone as a remote control for your Xbox, among many other useful functions. It’s also pretty easy to set up a media library on your PC that can be accessed from your Xbox. Unfortunately, that’s where the ecosystem ends; the Xbox 360 doesn’t offer much in the way of integration otherwise. The next Xbox, coming in 2013, might change all that.
The Winner Is…
Though Apple has the best tablets, Android has the best phones, and Windows has the best PCs, there really isn’t one unified ecosystem that does it all the best. Our recommendation: Try the Android or iOS ecosystems, but instead of going with a pointless Chromebook or an expensive Mac, get a decent Windows PC instead.
About the Author
Steve Horton is the Manager and Director, Community and Social Media for ReviverSoft, a software company that focuses on helping people get more out of their PCs.