UI unification 

click to enlarge opinion_cybernaut1.jpg

A recent speed test of Windows 8 laptops by Soluto (www.soluto.com) found that the best Windows PC on the market in terms of performance was in fact the latest MacBook Pro.

Soluto collected data through its PC maintenance service and determined that MacBook Pro computers loaded/dual booted with Windows 8 loaded faster, crashed less and generally performed better in tests than their PC brethren. The reason, Soluto determined, had less to do with the hardware (though the MacBook Pro is impressive) than the bloatware.

HP, Dell, Asus, Samsung and all the other PC companies out there have loaded down the operating system with so much proprietary software that it actually affects the performance of the computers themselves. In comparison, the MacBook Pro data was based on clean installs of the operating system with no bloatware/crapware added on.

The bloatware issue is such a pain that any serious PC user will request a physical disk of the operating system with any computer purchase, then promptly wipe the computer by doing a complete fresh install. It requires a little tedious work searching down plug-ins for your peripherals, SD card slots, microphones, speakers, trackpads, cameras, printers, etc., but the result is a clean, fast-to-load and faster-to-use computer where system resources aren't being wasted on things you probably don't want or need.

In fact, the ability to get a bloatware-free computer is driving a lot of people to Windows Stores, where you can buy brand-name computers from companies like Dell but with completely clean installs.

The bloatware issue is not just related to personal computers. Most Android and Windows phones and devices have some kind of proprietary software installed that makes the user interface for an HTC look and work different than the user interface for a Samsung Galaxy. As well, your carrier — Rogers, Bell, Telus, etc. — will also install software that runs in the background.

There are some benefits to some of the bloatware out there. For example, the HTC One comes with proprietary photo editing software and HTC Sense features, while Samsung's keyboard/predictive text feature get high notes. My Nokia Windows Phone came with a lot of great Nokia apps preinstalled like their GPS/map programs and camera filters, as well as a program from Rogers that keeps my phone up to date and lets me track usage.

But there are also people who would rather keep things clean and strip their phones/tablets down to the bare operating system. Google came through at their recent I/O conference, working with Samsung to be able to offer devices where skins and proprietary software are optional.

Apple, being both hardware and software, doesn't have any third-party bloatware installed for the most part, but a lot of people do delete standard programs that ship with phones, tablets and computers in favour of better third-party solutions.

Apple's biggest UI problem, as Apple sees it, is "skeumorphism." Their next OS update, iOS7, is supposed to resolve some of the issues by making Apple's icons and programs look and work similar to each other to create a more pleasing, less visually distracting, user interface. Icons will be "flatter" in design, keep to the same basic colour palette, and when you open books or maps the colors, fonts and user experience will look the same — no more fake wood trim for your ebook or game library and no more searching within an app for options and preferences.

A cleaner interface will help Apple to set itself apart from Android, which is a dog's breakfast of colours, fonts, widgets, icons and screens, while stealing some of Microsoft's Windows Phone thunder. Even hardcore Android and Apple fans admit that Windows Phone has the simplest, best-looking interface right now.

The interesting result of these different approaches to bloatware and user interfaces is that the differences between computers and operating systems tends to disappear. The sometimes dramatic differences are being toned down to create familiar and generic products.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I prefer my electronics to be clean and crapware free, but differences can also be good at times. That narrow margin between the original manufacturer and the end user is where a lot of innovation has happened over the years, and the reason you can safely delete most crapware is because the other core software has finally caught up.

CRTC weighs in on cell phone contracts

This week the CRTC unveiled proposed changes to regulations overseeing wireless carriers in Canada, including new limits of two years for contracts — down from three years — and the ability to unlock your cell phone within three months of purchase if the device is paid for in full. The new rules will come into effect on Dec. 2 unless the federal government intervenes on behalf of telecoms.

The government and the RCMP are working together to break up the monopoly of Canada's big three telecom companies. Some of the other changes to the code of conduct include capping extra data charges at $50 a month and international roaming charges at $100.


Latest in Cybernaut

More by Andrew Mitchell

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation