Friday, March 9, 2007

ReadyBoost and the ribbon UI - finally we see Redmond innovating!

I frequently lament about how Microsoft, from its products, does not seem to have innovation in its work culture. I know that I have been rather mean and rude at times, calling Redmond brainless imitators and unoriginal bastards who blatantly rip features off the Mac OS.

Well, for a change, I shall offer a different viewpoint today, by providing specific examples where Redmond is finally innovating and tapping on the creative and imaginative juices of their developers.

Let’s begin with the much talked about Windows Vista, which is the hottest release now for PC fans (not a lot out there sadly). One new and notable feature which Microsoft seems not to be advertising a lot is ReadyBoost. I feel that they should be boasting about ReadyBoost instead of other not-so-impressive features like IE 7 and Windows Media Player 11 (which is available on XP too).

ReadyBoost basically allows you to use your compatible USB 2.0 thumb-drive or flash memory key as extra RAM when plugged into your Vista machine, thereby improving system performance.

Well, it doesn’t exactly work like true, genuine RAM, but instead functions as additional memory cache, which is memory that the computer can access much more quickly than it can access data on the hard drive. ReadyBoost relies on SuperFetch, significantly improving system responsiveness.

So what are the benefits for end-users? Firstly, this means that you can save quite a sum on buying extra RAM, and secondly, this means that you can have instant performance hikes without you getting your hands dirty opening the CPU to insert more RAM, as and when it is necessary.

In the words of Microsoft: "It's easy to use Windows ReadyBoost. When a removable memory device such as a USB flash drive or a secure digital (SD) memory card is first inserted into a port, Windows Vista checks to see if its performance is fast enough to work with Windows ReadyBoost. If so, you are asked if you want to use this device to speed up system performance. You can choose to allocate part of a USB drive's memory to speed up performance and use the remainder to store files. "

Yup, this is essentially what it does, and isn't it a truly brilliant and remarkably ingenious idea that really deserves our WOW? Features like Photo Gallery and Calender, which has obvious similarities to iPhoto and iCal, should not be aggressively advertised, but it is ReadyBoost that Microsoft should proudly proclaim.

The next example is to be found in the new Office 2007. Everyone who uses it will immediately notice the brand-new, completely redesigned user interface, which they call the ribbon UI.

For the majority who still uses the 2003 version of Office, a screenshot of Word 2007 would show you visually how the ribbon looks like:

Office developers claim that this new UI will help to improve productivity by reorganising certain buttons to help achieve tasks in fewer steps. Personally, I have yet to get my hands on Office 2007 running on Vista, but I have participated in the online test-drive, so I can say that the ribbon is indeed a useful, innovative way of creating a UI. The ribbon is a revolutionary invention, replacing the age old toolbars. But whether the ribbon will take-off as a fresh form of UI in all other future software and stand the test of time is a matter of speculation as it is too early to conclude anything.

However, from what Microsoft claims, Office 2007 is surprisingly selling well, and people are responding well to this new interface, saying that they will take some time to get used to the ribbon, but believing that in the long run, this will be an important productivity improvement tool.

So, very briefly, these are two creative features that Redmond has churned out, and people should pay more attention to them instead of believing in those SBS bus ads which read: Let there be 'Wow', and then have this catch phrase which reads: Pump up the volume of your favourite tunes, or something to that effect. These ads do not properly justify why people should purchase Vista, and advertising for ReadyBoost (as a speed enhancer) and the ribbon (as a productivity improver in Office 07) should be the stuff that's on buses and MRT stations instead.

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