Okay, there’s been a lot of electronic ink spilled over Microsoft’s recent decision to leave some of the basic applications out of Windows 7, notably an email client and a photo manager. I haven’t totally made up my mind yet, but I think this is a huge mistake.ADHERER
On the one hand, most of us are doing all of our email online these days, using Gmail and Yahoo! Mail and such. And Microsoft is trying to break (more) heavily into that game with their Windows Live initiative. True enough. But I think this takes the narrow view.
Having these very basic apps on a clean installation of Windows is, to me, imperative for the non-power users. I am sure there are many more people using Outlook Express just because it’s there, and wouldn’t know a Thunderbird if it bit them on the butt. As such, I think Microsoft should give us at least the basic functionality of our digital lives.
As for photo management, well I am on the fence with this one. I think Microsoft has done wonders, particularly in Vista, for allowing users to somewhat-easily manage droves of photos directly from Explorer. After all, isn’t that all we need, a way to organize (folders and sub-folders), view (thumbnails), and find (search) our photos? Most of us who are into the “photography thing” have far too many to store them all online anyway. And need I remind everyone, who wants to store their pr0n in the cloud? After all, when is pr0n more useful than when your ISP is down?
But seriously, I have a hate-affair with OSX’s iPhoto, and even more so since recent versions of it obscure the actual photo files, forcing me to use iPhoto to see and manage my pics. For my money, as long as I can plug my camera in and upload pictures off of it, and then view and organize them myself, that is plenty of basic functionality. If I need more, then I am probably going to get Picasa or something anyway. So, when Microsoft says they’re not going to bundle photo management software into Windows 7, I hope they at least keep thumbnails and such.
But perhaps they meant that they were not going to bundle photo editing software. This is another double-edged sword. Does this mean no MSPaint? Or no quick-editing of contrast, brightness, etc.? Either way, I think this is a mistake.
Finally there’s contact management. Well, this goes with the treatise of this whole bit. Part of the strength of OSX’s “it just works” mantra is that they provide basic software for this stuff, that works well, and is easy to use. So when someone builds software for the Mac to, say, sync contacts with thus-n-such, they make it able to sync with Contacts in OSX. This is a no-brainer, folks. If Windows doesn’t have a de facto repository for contacts, then it’s the wild west and it’s anyone’s guess what is being used. Someone who wants to sync contacts with, say, Google will have to find a particular program that syncs between Google and whatever desktop contact manager they use. And the more obscure their chosen software, the less likely it is they’ll get any satisfaction. And then if they wish to sync their contacts with, say, a mobile device, well then their search for adequate software doubles.
Bundled apps, if they’re usable and well-written, can serve as a Rosetta Stone, or a base of operations, if you will, for many such things. This is why it’s relatively easy to find helpful nuggets for OSX things because they all assume (and pretty rightly so) that you are using the OSX bundled apps.
And this goes back, as I said, to more than contacts. For instance, I use Google’s Picasaweb to share photos online. It’s not necessarily the best place to do so, but I like Google and it works for me. Well, there is an application that allows me to send photos from iPhoto directly to Picasaweb. Isn’t that handy? Well, if there were a dozen “standards” in Windows local photo storage and management, do you think Google would write and maintain a dozen different apps for this purpose? I, for one, wouldn’t think so.
Email gets a little tricky as there isn’t much use in retrieval of emails after they’ve been read and responded to. Well, let me clarify… sure we all need to look at old emails for whatever reason, but do we sit around and look at old emails nostalgically? Do we trot old emails out to show to company? No. But there is a grand need to manage email automatically… Gmail calls these filters, Outlook calls them rules, you get the idea. If there’s a standardized way to retrieve and store email on our Windows machines, then it becomes a lot easier for third parties to devise add-ons. Outlook is almost the standard for email on Windows machines, but that’s mainly because it’s used in the workplace so much. (It would be nice if Outlook could be available to all for free.) Just look at how many add-ons and plugins are available for Outlook. Google even has a contact syncer for Outlook, and Outlook alone. But they don’t have one for OSX’s Contacts or Mail.app. That shows you how important a standard is in this space.
Now, the other hand to this argument is that Microsoft is trying to take everything to the cloud. So they may be hedging their bets that instead of a dedicated app, they’ll just place shortcuts in the Start menu or on the desktop to get people going. This isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. But there will always be those that would rather keep their stuff on their own machines, for security’s sake. Perhaps Microsoft’s new cloud-minded mentality will open up some doors for software that can exist online but still store data locally. That would rock, especially if the standard could be kept open (a la open document standards) so that people could choose from different online apps to manage their local data.
Of course, the security implications of that are frightening at best.
What do you think of Microsoft’s idea to keep these apps out of Windows 7? Let me know in the comments.