The rambling thoughts of a long-term Windows guy who’s hungry for a desktop refresh.
Where to start?
In the movie City of Angels, Nicolas Cage’s character, an angel, asks a little girl who has just died what she liked most about this life. Her answer, pajamas.
Ah, yes. Pajamas! Personal, dependable, comfortable, warm, and synonymous with being at home.
If an angel lovingly gazed into my eyes and asked me the same thing, sure there are loved ones, there are people who go the extra mile as I do in a heartbeat, if asked. But what has consistently given me peace for the past 30 something years? My answer back to Nicolas Cage? Computers.
But how do we know if we’ve taken the right path in life? Is there a right way and a wrong way? Would my angel shake their head as we watch the footage of my compulsory life review? School, job, college, job, girls, motorbikes, cars, girls, computers, travel, computers, women, computers, job, country, computers, new country, new computer, girl, new country, next computer. (What if the review fails with a blue screen? Should I keep quiet? Should I suggest a fix?)
OK, enough! So, many of us like computers. No big deal.
Recently, I’ve wondered if my computer lifestyle is negatively affecting my creativity. Can the desktop look and feel make or break one’s creativity or inspiration? Do I deserve to be creative? Is something holding me back? More on that later.
My boss’s shinier iMac screen
Here in Japan, at one of the schools where I work, there is a beautiful iMac on my boss’s desk. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded that I’ve never had a computer monitor that looks as sophisticated as that iMac in all the years I’ve loved PCs. Is it more the UI or the beautiful shiny glass screen?
My Windows history
After leaving college and going to work, most places I worked at, including a state-of-the-art corporate data center, had a Windows PC on each desk. I wasn’t into computers at home that much, but Windows was all around me at the places where I worked, and a few of us (mainframe operators) would play Solitaire on a night-shift lunch break.
The rich people
Occasionally, I would come across someone with seemingly less computer knowledge but a ton of cash who owned or had just bought a new Mac. If only they had asked me first, I thought, I could have helped them join the majority and saved them all of that cash.
What was it with rich people? Were they too susceptible to sales techniques? Didn’t they know how popular Windows PCs were? How did they see things differently? Didn’t they know that Microsoft made Office? And didn’t they play computer games, ever?
Mac users helped me to geek up
When I moved to Japan, where I currently live, I unexpectedly became interested in using creative apps. This was 2 years before Google bought YouTube. The learning site Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) was where I first started watching video tutorials to study how to use Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive, and a few other programs back then. My newfound curiosity and ability to focus on geeky stuff was quite the change of direction, fueled by an interest in communicating, so I went with it.
Time and again, the video tutorial gurus would remind me to press Ctrl+C to copy or Ctrl+V to paste if I was on Windows. Otherwise, press Command C and Command V because quite a few of them were using Macs!
Hmm. It seemed that creative professionals favored Macs at that time.
Building your own computer
Before coming to Japan, I was no stranger to building computers. You can build your own PC to get the best parts for your computer, and you can spec it within any budget. For Windows users (and Linux), there is a plethora of hardware out there from different manufactures to choose from, some expensive and top quality, and some quite the opposite.
Mac users typically have to buy their Macs prebuilt. macOS is reliant on Mac hardware. You can spec a Mac, but not easily build your own.
Either way, you could (and can) build a mighty PC for much less than a shiny new Mac. But, it still might not look as good on the outside.
Gaming on Windows in the past
In 2000, I started enjoying a couple of online multiplayer computer games, namely Delta Force Land Warrior and Unreal Tournament. Two great games, which I guess I couldn’t have played on a Mac. It never occurred to me at the time, but this reminds me that I’ve definitely enjoyed some benefits of being a Windows user over the years.
Gaming on Windows now
Fast forward to now, and the only computer game I currently play is the excellent Apex Legends available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox. It might sound uncomfortable hearing a 52-year-old talking about computer games, but Apex Legends is like a home from home for me, even though I get annihilated in the game at my age. (Flight Simulator is great, too, but I haven’t played it for a few months.)
A good computer experience relies on having decent computer hardware, regardless of which Operating System you use. We know that Macs come prebuilt with excellent quality, shiny, good-looking, and powerful hardware, mostly made by Apple, of course. Apple has had much of its hardware locked down, so it’s pretty easy for them to maintain a premium style, quality, and design while charging prices to match. Great for the Apple brand and image.
On the other hand, Microsoft has a plethora of hardware partners designing products to appeal to individual budgets up and down the scale. The Windows brand aesthetic and image has sometimes shone less as a result, even if the Windows experience has been top-notch, for the most part.
My recent hardware purchases
As an Apex Legends enthusiast trying to punch below his age, my most recent hardware purchases have been a 240Hz gaming monitor used in eSports tournaments and a G502 gaming mouse. Unfortunately, I’m on a budget and still only have a 6-year-old GTX 970 video card, plus I’m over 50, but it sure helps to have the best hardware and components you can get or afford, to try to up your game. The video card definitely needs to be upgraded!
My new monitor is super fast for gaming. However, it won’t win any beauty awards with its plastic body and will never look as sophisticated as any iMac screens or the nicest monitors available for Windows. The emphasis needn’t always be on beauty, though, especially when designing or shopping for different budgets. Apple has its brand style locked down, and its iMacs have always looked nicer in the store, in my opinion.
Microsoft Surface Studio
That’s why Microsoft started to make their own Surface line of products, I guess. Microsoft’s way to showcase Windows inside a premium package. In fact, as a long-term Windows user, I was blown away the first time I saw the Surface Studio (pictured below). Finally, a monitor (all in one) that doesn’t look out of place near the Mac counter at your local electronics store. And it has a touch screen!
The Surface Pro tablet PCs are nice too, although the bezels need to be reduced in size from now on, and the UI could do with a refresh for smaller screens like the Surface Go. The coming Windows 10X should help with portable devices, and the `Sun Valley’ design refreshes coming to Windows 10 will hopefully keep things fresh on the desktop soon.
Balance is key. 2020 was an interesting year, with many of us working more online from home and adapting to new schedules and lifestyle changes. I managed to move most of my in-school face-to-face classroom lessons back to back, allowing me to spend an extra day as a part-time vegetable farmer (great for exercise and fresh air), plus get one more day at home to recharge the batteries. That usually means a day on the PC for me, which is never a bad thing, or is it?
What’s missing and what to change in 2021?
They say that change is as good as a rest. Having an extra day at home is ideal for some people. But time at home doesn’t always feel well spent. You like being on the computer, you like blogging, but something is missing. How do you get that creative flair and inspiration regularly? And how do you know that you are not holding yourself back? Could changing my computer monitor or changing to Mac be the answer?
Years with the Windows UI
I’ve spent many happy years using Windows. Whether you use Windows, Mac, or Linux, you have probably stared at the user interface (UI) for a very long time, day in day out. The UI needs to feel friendly, clean, modern, attractive, easy to use, and recognizable as time moves on.
As a long-term Windows enthusiast, I can remember the first feeling of disappointment in the Windows UI journey, which started with Windows 8. The things that people loved about Windows 7, like the Start menu, were taken away. I missed the menu of old and even simple visuals like the color yellow of the app folders down the menu’s side. It’s good to embrace the future, but the menu change just felt rude, almost like a Windows enthusiast didn’t design it.
When Windows 10 arrived, its menu was not that much better, with its default blue boxes and plain white app logos. As a Windows Insider then, I made a point to Microsoft of how bland the menu looked.
Now, the latest menu is somewhat fresher, the blue boxes have gone, and I can see the unhindered borderless little app icons down the left-hand side, including the yellow folders. It took a few years to get closer to how it was in the past, thankfully. Let’s hope it continues to evolve in the right direction now.
For any Windows enthusiasts or even journalists out there, being a Windows Insider allows you to see and use the latest Windows 10 and now Windows 11 features. Insiders can always submit feedback and help to shape the future of Windows.
The slight downside to being an Insider is that there are more installs than there are visual updates. So, if you’re a little hungry for freshness and change, you might be disappointed. Windows evolves fairly slowly, at least from a UI perspective.
As enthusiasts, we hear about coming and future tech or functionality. In Microsoft’s case, these very early announcements tend to dilute the experience by the time it arrives. I wish they would surprise us with noticeable changes instead.
macOS has always looked neater and more attractive than Windows, in my opinion, although I’ve never switched to Mac. As I said earlier, I learned how to use plenty of creative apps by watching the teachers move around the Mac interface. Even little design touches like the blue, yellow, and green buttons at the top-left of each window can bring apps and a UI together for a more seamless desktop experience.
macOS on PC hardware
If Windows users wanted to try macOS, they have to buy a Mac computer. Some of us Windows users already have a powerful and expensive PC, so to fork out for another computer is less than sensible just to try macOS. (Building a Hackintosh computer is less than ideal, too, in my opinion.)
A change is as good as a rest
Most people will admit that change or a balance from repetition is a good thing. Going outside for fresh air and exercise is crucial. Socializing is stimulating. Helping or working with others is rewarding. All of these changes and various experiences help to inspire us with new thoughts and possibilities.
Sitting at the computer
Back at home or in the office, though, can an OS UI stifle your inspiration and creativity and make you feel a need for change? And can changing the OS really be the change that you need?
Customization going forward
To feel more at home with our OS of choice, we can change wallpapers, background colors, UI themes, and sound effects if we like. Live backgrounds were never done correctly, in my opinion, but the idea of them is still valid, I think. I continue to enjoy one of the original aquarium screensavers, Marine Aquarium 3.3 (also available for Mac).
I once recommended to Microsoft that they make the desktop UI more organic or alive. Some flavors of Linux have had some excellent UIs and desktop effects for years.
Maybe nowadays, gaming companies should design operating systems. So that unless you are coding, reading, or really concentrating and need the simplest of canvases, interacting with the OS could be very exciting. A real and rewarding interaction. Maybe this would eventually lead to talking or working directly with AI, but visually, like being immersed in a game, the experience could be very cool on the senses. Maybe that will be a future iteration of themes.
Technology and age
I’m 52 years old. That’s no cool boast in the world of tech. Middle-aged people can have a less than ideal reputation when joining a tech company and trying to catch up, as it were, with their younger colleagues. Some older generations are less likely to change with the times and embrace technology.
You can always spot a techie, though. Their eyes light up when they talk about computers. It doesn’t matter if they use an iMac, a Windows PC, or a Linux computer. They all have a passion for what they do.
Evolving at work
More often than not, at work here, I use my smartphone (currently Android) to help translate and show image examples to Japanese students. In a group lesson, the phone will get passed around the table or room.
Over the years, I haven’t failed to see the ubiquitous iPhones, iPads, Windows laptops, MacBooks, and more recently, Chromebooks everywhere.
But even as a computer addict, I never needed or hungered for a laptop or tablet at work.
Blogging on the move
Being into this blog more recently, though, I’m seeing the benefit of blogging in between lessons, if it makes sense and is a good use of time. As a computer enthusiast who likes to blog about computers, it seems lazy and counterproductive to not even try to sample Apple products at all, regardless of my satisfaction with Windows.
So, I think that I could go with an iPad Pro with its convenient large screen. Having said that, I often find myself wanting to show people how to do something in Windows, in which case, a Windows tablet could be more useful.
It’s pretty pointless being a fanboy in this day and age. Certainly, to argue another person’s decision is a waste of time. It’s helpful to point out the benefits of various directions to take, especially in hindsight when based on our own experience. Passion is very welcome and understandable, along with a healthy dose of respect for others.
Being a Windows guy, it seems strange that you can hardly find a stock image of a desktop or laptop computer nowadays without hunting through a plethora of Mac images. Another reason to feel that one is out of date, unfashionable, or on the wrong side.
Final honest thoughts
You could be forgiven for thinking that some of these thoughts are part of a midlife crisis. A need to feel capable, worthy, fit in, adapt or improve. Regardless of age, can we like something too much for our own good? Does staying in your comfort zone stifle your growth opportunities? Is the UI design important for creativity? Does Google favor Apple or Microsoft?
If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it
I guess people stay with what works for them, and they don’t see a reason to switch unless they get hungry for something new or missing. I’m very pleased with Windows, although I feel a tad unfashionable among any Mac users.
You get what you pay for
Premium look-and-feel products will usually help us feel more professional, satisfied and hopefully inspire creative and productive results. Apple is more experienced at doing the premium look. Apple looks more fashionable sometimes. Windows has more users, though.
The Surface Studio 2 is where it’s at (for me)
At my age, I might be considered an old dog to whom you can’t teach new tricks. Either way, give me a Microsoft Surface Studio 2, and I’d never look back. (Productivity, gaming, and a beautiful touchscreen that reclines like a tablet. I mean, come on.)
As a teacher in the classroom, I hope the Surface Pro tablet UI evolves. The screen bezels need to be slimmer, too, in my humble opinion. The iPad Pro 2021 is probably the better tablet for classroom teachers at the moment. The iPad Pro could be my first Apple product purchase one day.
Mac gamers are missing out
When it comes to my favorite game, Apex Legends, Mac users need to buy a PlayStation 4 or Xbox. It is apparently coming to iOS, though, in late 2022.
The display is the window to the soul
You can’t fully appreciate a good OS on sub-standard hardware. The monitor is a huge part of the desktop experience. If you’re all about the visuals, try budgeting towards a nicer monitor. Screens with thinner bezels work wonders! Remember again that you get what you pay for.
Windows 11 is here!
Windows 11 is here for Windows Insiders. I got my hands on and installed the official release on June 29th, 2021. Windows 11 is cleaner, shinier, and more modern. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. In fact, the visual tweaks could be the refresh I was hungry for when I first wrote this post!
I don’t need a Mac
I’ll continue to watch Apple from the sidelines and keep an eye on whether their products should be in my life. I don’t need macOS. It’s certainly beneficial to learn about more than one platform, though, and I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.
Microsoft request list
If I could shake Microsoft’s hand and thank them for all the years of joyful computing, I’d enthusiastically and respectfully pass them this request list.
- Thanks for Windows 11 👌.
- Continue to design a great Windows experience.
- Release the Surface Studio monitor as a stand-alone product.
- Thin out the bezels on the Surface Pro tablets.
- Continue to design top-quality Surface hardware.
- Design to have it on the shelf at the store next to the Macs.
- Stop announcing future goals too early in advance.
- Innovate and get in on wearable tech as much as possible.
- What happened to the backgrounds of the bubble screensaver?
- I actually liked Cortana and think she had a lot of potential.
Let me know in the comments if your creativity has been enhanced by switching platforms or hardware.