Last night, Microsoft launched the second generation of their Zune personal media players. In all honesty, the players actually look pretty sharp although they resemble Apple’s previous generation of iPods.
The big question is whether or not anyone will actually care that there is a new version of the Zune available. In all of my travels, I have not yet run into one person who owns a Zune, and most of the people I work with are technology workers. I would have expected to see at least one of those guys with a Zune especially considering their allegiance to Microsoft’s server and development products, but that is not the case at all. I’m sure most of you can guess which player they have. That’s right; it’s an iPod! Even with people that usually swear by Windows and Microsoft’s other products, they turn to Apple for their music and video playing pleasure.
Engadget did a nice side by side comparison of the Zune and iPod, and on the surface, the Zune has a wider feature set, but they left out one very important specification. They left out the cool factor. Apple has created an aura of cool around their products like no other company in history. When it comes to cool, it is very difficult for a company to compete with Apple, and in the media player business, cool matters. People don’t want to walk around or ride a train or plane with some lame piece of hardware. What would people think? They want the coolest thing on the market, and right now, that is the iPod.
I am glad to see Microsoft is introducing new Zunes because it will push Apple to make their products even better, but I’m afraid that the poor old Zune will be an afterthought before it even gets started.
Earlier this week, Microsoft announced versions and pricing for Office 2008 for Mac. According to TUAW, there will be three different versions to chose from: Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac for $399.95, Microsoft Office for the Mac Home and Student Edition for $149.95, and Microsoft Office for Mac Special Media Edition for $499.95. Other than the Home and Student Edition, consumers will get a break on the price if they are upgrading from a previous version.
Professionals will most likely need to go with the standard or Special Media Edition in order to get Exchange support, but home users will be well served by the Home and Student Edition. This edition will compete directly with Apple’s iWork and free services from Google including Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Home and student users will need to really take some time to determine if they can live with only being able to work with these products online. If they can, they may be able to save $150 and use Google’s services instead. If they need to be able to work offline, Apple’s iWork may be an option. The suite is maturing, and it now has all of the same applications that are included in Office other than Entourage, and Entourage can easily be replaced by the Mail, Address Book, and iCal applications included on every Macintosh.
With Apple’s and Google’s applications available to home and student users, Microsoft will have a very difficult time convincing these users that they need to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of Office. I, for one, will not be running out and buying Office this time around. It just doesn’t make sense for me to spend money on a productivity suite from Microsoft when there are cheaper or free alternatives.
For all of us that have been telling our friends and co-workers to save their Microsoft Office 2007 files using the Office 2003 formats, we can finally stop worrying about it. Apple’s recently released iWork ’08 supports Microsoft’s Open XML formats that are the default files formats for Office 2007. While iWork can only read these formats at this time, I fully expect Apple to add the ability to write to these formats in an update soon. What’s funny about the whole situation is that Apple actually beat Microsoft to the punch with this release because Microsoft has yet to release a non-beta file converter for Office 2004. Full support for the Open XML formats is not expected in Office for Mac until the 2008 version that will be released in early 2008. If Apple can provide full read/write support for the Open XML formats in iWork by then, they have the chance to really increase their market share. There’s also another great reason for Mac users to switch from Office to iWork. iWork costs only $79 compared to the hundreds of dollars that Microsoft charges for Office. How can you beat that?
My buddy, Scott, and I went to the same Microsoft launch event for Windows Vista and Office 2007 in San Deigo and Saint Louis respectively. Even though we were separated by 2,000 miles and different speakers, we both came away with similar opinions of Windows Vista. It just isn’t all that impressive when you get right down to it. My wife and I have a new laptop running Vista, and it looks nice, but it has nothing that Mac OS X hasn’t had for years. Plus the laptop had to be souped up big time to even run the system. On the other hand, I have an almost eight year old Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X Tiger like a champ, and I plan to upgrade to Leopard soon after it is released. It seems to me that Microsoft tried too hard to make Vista look similar enough to XP that it wouldn’t freak people out. Vista has some really nice new features, and they could have been much cooler if the general layout of the desktop wasn’t the same as it’s been since Windows 95. There do seem to be some underlying technologies that could produce some cool new applications in the future. Now all we have to do is wait for developers to redesign their applications.
I stumbled upon a story on Digg about an IT director for a suburban Chicago school district wanting to get rid of Macs because they’re not used in the “real world.” He wants to replace them with more “appropriate technology” from Microsoft. This guy clearly has not been keeping up with what is going on in the world. Surely he must know that those new Macs that his district just purchased this year can most likely run Windows if they need to. The article is not clear about what kind of computers were purchased, however. Being a daily user of both systems, I prefer my Mac. I also have enough sense to know that I need to know Windows to function in the corporate world. Using a Mac in school provides “appropriate” training to use either Mac OS or Windows. The systems are similar in so many ways that it really doesn’t matter what computer a student uses. Besides, corporate users don’t know Windows. They know Office, and Office is available for both Windows and Mac OS. In fact, the Mac version of Office is easier to use and better designed than the Windows version. The Mac Business Unit over at Microsoft is doing a great job making Office more Mac-like.
Anyway, my point here is that Macs are just fine for school or business or any other activity, and anyone who thinks otherwise has not done enough research or testing to know better. Judging by the number of Diggs this story has already, this guy is going to hear what people think of his grand plan.
read more | digg story
Ever since Microsoft and PC makers started marketing and selling Windows Media Center PCs, I’ve thought that they were just taking the wrong approach. While a geek like me would want a PC in their living room, the average person most likely does not want to have a PC as the centerpiece of their entertainment center. Using a computer is a very active form of entertainment whether a person is surfing the Internet or playing games. Watching television, on the other hand, is a very passive activity. People just want to relax and enjoy the show, and they want it to be very easy. As Aerosmith once said, “Just Push Play.”
In comes Apple with the iTV. They’re going to change the name before the official release, and my bet is that it will be part of the Mac family rather than the iPod family. I’m sure Steve Jobs and co. will come up with a snappy, marketable name. The iTV allows users to stream movies and media from their Mac or PC that’s sitting anywhere in their house through a wireless or wired connection. There will be no need to have a computer sitting next to the TV. Using the handy little remote included with the iTV, users will be able to browse through their media and select the movie or media they want to watch.
Apple once again has taken something insanely complex and made it accessible to the average person. That’s how they won the MP3 player market and the digital download market. It is also how they will continue their dominance in the digital media age by bringing the media into the living room. Congrats Apple! I can’t wait to see the finished product.