Vista doesn’t work well on UMPCs and other mobile PCs as they are shipping today. I’m not the only one who’s been ranting on this lately, you don’t have to look far to find consumers who are not happy with the current situation in the mobile PC space. I have stated (and prophetically some would say) that Apple is the only company who can turn out a mobile PC with the requirements that consumers need. To be fair I also stated that the other company that could do this is Microsoft. This article is a look at how Microsoft could make an operating system/ mobile computing environment that would revolutionize this space and also leave Apple in its dust.
Operating system environment
Microsoft has thrown everything into Vista and its incorporation into all PCs, including mobile PCs. This is a huge mistake because the OS environment is too big, too resource hungry and too hard on battery consumption to ever work well as it’s currently shipping. What is desperately needed is a new OS platform for mobile PCs, I’ll call it Vista Mobile for this article.
Vista Mobile could be produced to provide the operating environment that mobile PC users need and demand. It should be designed to provide compatibility with bigger PCs in the user’s world, utilize power optimally, and this should be done in such a way to still allow users the ability to run the programs they need to run to be productive. So how can Vista Mobile be produced to maximize the user’s experience based on this criteria? I’m no hardware/ software engineer but I am pretty familiar with the way these things are done today so here are my thoughts on how Vista Mobile should be produced.
I firmly believe that for mobile devices to be the best they can be that the operating system needs to be embedded in the device and not installed on spinning media. This goes a long way to addressing all the criteria I’ve listed and more importantly gives a way to have the mobile PC work with instant on and off. This is very important for the mobile user to be able to hit the button and have the device instantly return to where it was when the user powered it off to save battery. This is a no compromise area of design because the positive impact on the user experience cannot be greater. I know that Microsoft is looking to move entirely to the Vista platform but if Vista is not the best to provide an embedded environment then it shouldn’t be used here. Embedded XP is being used all over the world today and if it would make for a better starting point for Vista Mobile then so be it. Consumers will not complain, believe me.
Having the OS embedded in the hardware also can be capitalized to make the overall performance of mobile PCs to be stellar. The current model of having the OS live on a spinning hard drive and constantly pulled into memory as needed is not optimum for mobile PCs and having it always sitting in memory could only be a performance plus. The embedded portion of the OS can be designed to coexist with existing processor technology which makes sense given how much work Intel has done in this area. The McCaslin processors and upcoming Menlow processors don’t handle Vista well but if Vista Mobile was designed with these lower power processors in mind we could have some pretty killer performance with them. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and plan on new hardware, let’s use what we already know is out there and upcoming. Vista Mobile could be optimized for these processors and costs would be contained and performance enhanced. I can envision a pretty killer mobile PC under these circumstances. Mobile PCs should be faster than their bigger counterparts and should be one of the objectives of producing Vista Mobile. I am convinced it can be done.
One of the areas that conventional operating systems fail miserably for mobile PCs is because they are designed to handle as many different hardware components as possible. They have to do this because there are no real standards in the hardware world, graphics chipmakers are always updating their products for example. Vista Mobile doesn’t need this open-ended component support. The opposite is better in fact, there is nothing wrong with Microsoft cherry-picking the best fit graphics support, Bluetooth support, WiFi support, and any other areas we need in mobile PCs. Pick a few and build bullet proof support for them in the embedded OS. That just makes sense and will insure the user has no problems with the hardware. Vista Mobile could even be optimized to get the best performance and battery life with them. That can only be a good thing with Vista Mobile.
Vista Mobile should be written to allow users to add the programs they need to get their work done. Forget spinning media, though, because it’s slow and hard on battery life. No, write Vista Mobile to use solid state disks (SSD) from the ground up. While SSDs are beginning to take off the ones big enough to run conventional Vista are too expensive and frankly with the OS embedded in memory the larger capacity SSDs are not needed. Vista Mobile should be written to require an SSD for user storage and application installation and that could easily fit in a 32 GB SSD. Costs would end up the same as spinning media as mobile PCs began to fly off store shelves and the performance benefits cannot be overstated. No moving parts are what we need Vista Mobile to require. While you are at it Microsoft one thing you can do that would have a huge impact on our mobile PC performance in our mobile work life is to embed Microsoft Office. Yep, you heard me right. MS Office is a huge software suite that has a negative impact on storage requirements and operationally for mobile PCs. Embed that right into Vista Mobile and you would turn a negative into a huge positive impact on performance and battery consumption.
Vista Mobile should be optimized for both touch and pen input. Mobile PCs provide a more productive experience when they can be manipulated with the fingers, but pen input is critical for data entry when needed. This could easily be implemented right into the OS using the existing technology for both touch and ink in Vista, and palm rejection technology could be built right into Vista Mobile. There are not that many hardware digitizers being used in mobile PCs today and Vista Mobile could be tweaked to provide the best inking experience with all of them without a ton of work. The goal with Vista Mobile is not to compromise but to optimize. If it’s needed to produce a very constrictive design reference for screen sized supported then so be it. I’d rather have a great mobile device with fewer screen size choices than poor ones any day. We shouldn’t view that as restrictive rather as a way to get an optimum user experience. I am all for that myself.
Vista Mobile should support interfacing mobile PCs with the desktop environment in its core. Mobile PCs should have a dock that has the device instantly connect to the user’s computing environment without problems. The ability to auto-sync users documents with a desktop would be great but at the very least the SSD on the mobile PC should show up as an external disk drive on the desktop. If the user has to manually copy stuff over so be it, it’s better than we have now. Mobile PCs will be used as primary computers by some but for most they will be companion devices and this type of PC interaction is not a difficult thing to implement. Dock your mobile PC and it becomes a part of your desktop environment, I think everyone can imagine how great that will be. Docking should also allow tethering the mobile PC to peripherals for those who will use them as a primary device. Imagine how great this scenario could be- you dock your mobile PC, the desktop sees it and mounts the drive, Vista Mobile detects the presence of another computer and asks you if you want to use its screen, keyboard and mouse with the mobile. The technology exists to already do this today so lets put it in Vista Mobile. That would be drop-dead wonderful.
This is by no means a detailed technical how-to for Microsoft to produce Vista Mobile, like I said I’m no engineer but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of them in Redmond who could do this. Mobile PCs are not used the same as other PCs and will never work optimally using operating systems designed for desktops. We need Vista Mobile and more importantly so does Microsoft to move forward from the debacle of Vista. Let’s all let Microsoft know how badly we need Vista Mobile as the computing space gravitates to smaller devices that are designed to be good work machines and lifestyle devices concurrently. We need your help, Microsoft, and you can do this if you will.