Microsoft Admires How Apple Products 'Just Work'

One of a series of purported Windows 8 slides that leaked earlier this week focuses on the uncomplicated, "It just works" nature of Apple product design. The slide describes a virtuous circle in which a user experience that's "low in friction" makes the products easy for people to use, which in turn leads to satisfied customers placing high value in the products.

"This is something people will pay for!" reads the slide.

There's nothing in the slide that suggests Microsoft is planning to offer a more Apple-like user experience in Windows 8, but given how well customers have responded to the simplicity and ease of use of Windows 7, it's a move that would make sense. Some would argue that Windows 7 was Microsoft's first step in this direction.

Last November, Simon Aldous, a Microsoft partner group manager in the U.K., let slip that Microsoft, with Windows 7, emulated certain aspects of OS X. "What we've tried to do with Windows 7 -- whether it's traditional format or in a touch format -- is create a Mac look and feel in terms of graphics," Aldous said in an interview with PCR, a U.K.-based channel publication.

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In March, Terry Myerson, vice president of Windows Phone Engineering at Microsoft, acknowledged that Microsoft has also learned lessons from the iPhone.

"To be entirely candid, the iPhone opened our eyes as to some things that needed to be done that were not in our plan. Some execution had really gone astray," Myerson told the New York Times.

Microsoft has completely overhauled its mobile strategy with Windows Phone 7, which is due to arrive on devices this fall. But Microsoft doesn’t have the luxury of doing the same with Windows on the client, where small changes create big ripple effects for its partners.

Apple resellers don't doubt Microsoft's ability or desire to make Windows more like OS X, but they also don't think Microsoft would be willing to disrupt its partner community to the extent that such a move would require.

"It would take a complete overhaul of both the technology and the methodology to gain any ground," said Jay Wooten, president of Visual Dynamics, an Apple specialist in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. "Can Microsoft pull this off? From a technical point of view, sure, but it's going to be a struggle."

Nick Gold, director of business development for Baltimore, Md.-based Apple VAR Chesapeake Systems, says efforts to simplify Windows could alienate Microsoft's existing customers. "There are lots of Windows oriented people, from power users on the desktop to IT administrators, who like the complexity of Windows and the feeling that it's a bit esoteric," he said.

Michael Oh, founder and CEO of Boston-based Apple reseller Tech Superpowers, says the size of Microsoft's hardware and software partner ecosystem adds a great deal of complexity to its development.

"The reason Windows is more complex than OS X is that Microsoft has to design so many more components into the OS, for backward compatibility, devices they don’t control, and the nature of their architecture," said Oh.

Microsoft has long denied copying anything from Apple, but evidence to the contrary has been in Windows for years. Could it be that Microsoft is finally acknowledging that there are lessons to be learned from the way Apple is doing things?