No matter how hard Apple strives to make Microsoft look uncool, one fact remains: Microsoft owns the desktop. No matter what you do or where you go, somewhere or another, you're working with Windows. So when you hear that Microsoft will strip built-in email, photo editing, and movie making programs from Windows 7, you have to wonder: What's Microsoft giving you out of the box besides Internet Explorer, a web browser you're going to use once to download a better one?
Not that we were thrilled with what was there, but...
Microsoft has a sad history of bundling lame, half-baked applications into the operating system by default (Outlook Express) and then up-selling you with software that actually functions (proper Outlook). Vista even added a crazy Windows Contacts application that—though welcome in theory—is functionally insane. But is that any reason to give up on my desktop altogether?
Where's Microsoft's iLife?
The thing that appeals to people about Apple products is that they "just work." While the extent to which OS X really does "just work" is certainly debatable, it's fair to say that much of what's supports that idea is iLife—the suite of default apps bundled with OS X that handles things like email, photo management, calendars, video editing, and more. Mac users don't have to go on a quest for a new application every time they want to do something new. Want to make a movie? Fire up iMovie. Burn it to a DVD? iDVD does the job. They don't have to be the best apps possible, but they do the job, and they're relatively user-friendly. Granted, we Windows users take a certain amount of pride in knowing where to find the best application for getting a job done (where would this site be if everything Microsoft made was already gold?), but it seems silly that Microsoft's grand plan is to move completely away from bundling anything you might need to do—normal things like manage photos, contacts, or your calendar.
In our Hive Five series —which asks readers to identify the five best apps in a given category—iLife apps made the top five for best calendar applications with iCal, best contact management applications with Address Book, and best digital photo organiser with iPhoto. In fact, Address Book actually took home the most votes—despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of our readers use Windows (guess Windows Contacts didn't inspire any of you, either). Unless I'm mistaken, not one default Windows app has made the short list in any of our Hive Fives.
Where's the Incentive to Buy a Windows PC?
You could be using Windows every day and still never touch default Windows apps. That's fine, but is that really the way it should be? Shouldn't Microsoft at least be trying to create applications that you'd want to use? They don't have to be complicated. They just have to provide functionality you actually need.
Right now the only apps Microsoft offers that everyone uses and (sometimes) likes come with the Microsoft Office suite. But you've got to buy that, whether you're running Windows or a Mac.
The silver lining
Apart from the fact that they're all almost all in beta and they won't actually ship with your computer, the Windows Live set of apps actually show a lot of promise and a strong direction for the future of Windows application development on both the desktop and the web. Their biggest problem is they're sort of a Johnny-come-lately to most of this web business: Google already has a strong foothold in virtually all of the major Windows Live services. With Chrome and Gears, Google is taking a backdoor to owning your business, both online and off—leaving Microsoft with a lot to worry about if they're concerned with staying competitive in these arenas.
Luckily there's more to the silver lining. Perhaps the most appealing reason given by Microsoft for the move is faster Windows development. According to CNET, "Microsoft made the decision to remove the tools from Windows for several reasons, including a desire to issue new operating system releases more quickly than it has in the past." Smaller, more iterative updates to Windows rather than epic service packs and jarring new releases (à la XP to Vista) could go a long way toward keeping your desktop secured, stable, and strong. (Though God help them if Microsoft actually delayed releases in the past because of its already unimpressive bundled apps.) Either way, you'll still get an improved calculator, new sticky notes, and lightweight Windows Media Player in Windows 7, so all is not lost.
Good riddance to bundled Windows apps, who cares, or oh no! Let's hear about it in the comments.