Ina Fried

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Mountain Lion and Windows 8’s Common Aim: Make Desktop More Like Mobile

Although they are doing it in different ways, Apple and Microsoft are aiming for a similar goal with their next desktop operating systems: To make the computer more like the phone.

Apple on Thursday announced its plans for Mountain Lion, Mac OS X 10.8. Due this summer, it brings over a number of popular iOS features, including notifications, reminders, Twitter integration and iMessage, plus synchronization with iCloud.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is adding the tile-centric Metro interface from Windows Phone 7, an app store, improved mobile broadband support and better instant-on and instant-off abilities.

Perhaps most importantly, Windows 8 will support the power-savvy ARM chips found in phones and tablets, in addition to the Intel and AMD chips that have traditionally powered Windows PCs.

This isn’t a one-time move, either. The first Lion was also an attempt at the same thing, adding support for full-screen apps and other features first shown on the iPhone and iPad.

Such moves make sense. Not only are smartphones and their apps rapidly growing in adoption, but people expect their computers — especially laptops — to be just as mobile. And the next generation of computer users are growing up expecting everything to be like an iPad.

Apple and Microsoft are also once again close in timing for their new operating systems. Apple says Mountain Lion should be out this summer. Microsoft hasn’t given an exact timing for Windows 8, but chipmakers and PC manufacturers are counting on having Windows 8 machines ready later this year.

Apple released a developer preview version of Mountain Lion on Thursday, while Microsoft had its early version last fall. A “consumer preview” version of Windows 8 is slated to be released at the end of this month.

One area where Apple and Microsoft have differed is over touch capabilities. On the desktop, Apple has kept its gestures to the trackpad, rather than make its screens touch-sensitive.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has been early at bringing touch to the desktop and laptop. Windows 7 offered built-in multitouch support, and Windows 8 appears designed to be manipulated by hand, though it will work with keyboard and mouse.

Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg said that Apple and Microsoft are taking very different approaches.

“Microsoft wants them to look the same,” Gartenberg said. “Apple wants them to feel the same.”

Gartenberg said that Microsoft has struggled with a similar approach in the past, noting that Windows Mobile initially aimed to replicate the Windows desktop down to the start menu — an approach that was not popular with consumers.

“It seems like Microsoft is again trying to say let’s make one size fit all,” he said. “That hasn’t worked out particularly well for them in the past. It feels like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”

Apple, Gartenberg said, is trying to replicate some of the experiences popular on the iPhone and iPad, but is doing so in a more context-aware manner that reflects the different way computers are used as compared with phones and tablets.

“The market will decide which one fundamentally works better,” he said.

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