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Multi or Single Platform Computing?



How Many Platforms Will You Use?

How Many Platforms Will You Use?

It wasn’t very many years ago that the vast majority of computing was done on one of two platforms – Windows or Mac OS. Linux has always enjoyed a small but loyal share of the pie as well, but new operating systems stopped appearing a long time ago with few exceptions (see Chrome OS). You were either a PC or a Mac as Apple’s ubiquitous commercials liked to say.

But, with the development of new ecosystems on smartphones and now tablets, the market is open again. More than that, the post-PC market offers dozens of products with different operating systems than we are used to. There’s the iOS which is a standalone product, but admittedly interacts best with Mac OS computers. There’s Android which works on all platforms equally well, and Windows Phone 7 which, while not available on a tablet, integrates quite a few Microsoft PC products onto phones.

So, the question has once again arisen – is it better to choose one platform and stick with it or can you easily choose multiple platforms and exchange files and content between them?

This Isn’t the Same as Desktop vs. Laptop

If you own a desktop PC with Windows 7 and buy a Macbook Pro for the road, don’t expect an easy transition. Yes, Macs can finally run much of the software from PCs with special tools (or Mac specific versions), but OS-specific file extensions, layouts and services make it hard to keep everything matched up across both platforms.

The same is not true for your mobile devices. If you own an iPad and a Windows PC, the content is perfectly interchangeable. Apple has no choice but to make it easy for PC owners to use their mobile devices. The same is true of Android – all Android devices work on all PC platforms.

But, what happens when people start buying multiple tablets and smartphones. It won’t affect most consumers, but as the tablet market matures and more options become available, it’s likely that many of us will own more than one tablet.

How will information transfer between those platforms? Will it be simple or will there be a gateway like there long was between Mac and PC users? Most of that question is rendered moot by cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote. They work on every platform and allow you to transfer files seamlessly.

The real issue arises in App support. If you invest $1,000 in apps for your iPad 2, that content cannot be used on an Android device, and vice versa with Android content on an iPad. You’ll own two separate devices that need separate software.

Rumors about the PlayBook running Android apps are due to this dilemma. Not only is it hard to convince developers to start work on a completely new platform; it’s hard to convince someone who bought a tablet as a fun gadget and invested so much money into the apps to buy another tablet for work that will require all new apps.

I personally foresee a future in which I use a number of tablets for different tasks, regardless of platform. What about you? Could you be a multi-platform user or are you brand loyal? Will Apple be your tablet, phone, and PC provider of choice or will you consider any new tech if the features strike you as a good investment?




  1. Willem Evenhuis

    04/08/2011 at 10:56 pm

    Probably multi OS. If Bing invests heavily on good end user usability for iOS, google improves usability for apps and email for windows 7 and android apparently accepts cross platform apps, it is inevitable. Unless the OS’es get their grips together and offer a doable and userfriendly, customer centered cross platform support. But I fear that the short-sightedness will unfortunately will be here to stay.

  2. Anonymous

    04/10/2011 at 1:59 am

    I went multi-OS for a while (always a Windows desktop, then a Palm OS handheld, then a Windows Mobile handheld, then Windows Mobile + Mac OS 9/X via old PowerBook), but after getting a proper Windows Tablet PC, I’ve largely consolidated on that as my mobile computer-mostly because Microsoft left me behind with Windows Mobile again, and I’m tired of going through PDA OSes like that.

    However, what I think people ultimately realized is that for what they do, the OS doesn’t really matter so long as some piece of software that allows them to do their needed tasks is available for the platforms they use. What does the average person do with a computer?

    -Web browsing
    -Office document viewing/editing
    -a casual game or two

    Most OSes do those sort of things, and hence the average person doesn’t really need a full-blown Windows, Mac OS X, or even Linux/BSD system.

    But in my case, I’m constrained to Windows for two main reasons:

    -Games. Not just the casual stuff, but the likes of Crysis, DCS: Black Shark, etc. Wine currently doesn’t work all that well with every game I play, which stretches from today to the Win9x era, back when 3dfx was still a big name in the graphics card market. Heck, even my flagship desktop doesn’t work that well with some of the older games, so I have another desktop built specifically to run those.

    -OneNote. The inking functions depend on Microsoft’s Ink library, and Wine has no provisions for it last time I checked. A lot of penabled Tablet PC software depends on said Ink library, so what does that leave me with? Windows.

    So for now, as a person who’s consolidated to a Windows desktop and a convertible Tablet PC in primary usage, that just leaves one OS (dabblings in Linux excluded, since I’m not using it as a primary OS by a long shot)…but if the Courier ever becomes reality, you can bet that I’ll throw in another OS into the fold.

    • dstrauss

      04/11/2011 at 2:10 pm

      I agree with Nameless on this one. I am really tired of the juggling file/program issue, so I have consolidated to an HP 2740p and iPhone. The tablet PC, although nowhere near as sexy, svelte, or battery efficient as the iPad, does function very well for touch input type tasks (browisng, e-reading) and of course NOTHING can compare to OneNote and an active digitizer. Throw in a huge amount of ram (8gb) and a great little Samsung SSD, and this thing is even faster than the iPad at most tasks. Above all, I’m not constantly struggling with HOW to get files on and off and shared among all the different devices (muck less multiple tablets as Hugo suggests). I know, I’ve tried Dropbox and Evernote, but I keep coming back to “why not just keep it all in one place, on my tablet PC hard drive.”

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