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In Defense of No Multitasking: Microsoft Edition

Illustration for article titled In Defense of No Multitasking: Microsoft Edition

Windows Phone 7 won't have full multitasking for third party apps, which, given Windows Mobile's multitasking past, took people off guard. Here's how Microsoft's Scott Guthrie answers for this. Warning: The rationalizations might sound a little familiar.

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Microsoft's stance is one that's been well-established by another company, and it revolves around broad experience. From a blogger roundtable at Mix today:

How do you trade-off battery life at the same time? As soon as you allow arbitrary apps to do things in the background, it can run out the battery pretty quickly.

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In pointing out that background apps can drain your battery, Guthrie is right. Microsoft is taking a conservative approach in taking away the very option—the "hand grenade"—that is multitasking, in service of a smooth, predictable user experience on the whole. And yeah, for current smartphone platforms that do support multitasking, nobody's come up with a truly user-friendly way to manage the apps—Android's implementation is confusing to a lot of people, and Palm's simpler system still causes slowdown, if left unchecked.

But let's rewind for a second. Apple, instead of coming up with a true solution for the multitasking problem, built a push notification service in its place, announced in 2008. From their website:

The Apple Push Notification service is designed with the mobility needs of iPhone and iPod touch users in mind. Most of the heavy lifting is handled between your servers and ours, so there's less impact on battery life and performance than there would be if you ran the app in the background.

At the time, this was panned as a cheap workaround. Now, Microsoft says it's planning almost the exact same thing. Apple's workaround has worked well enough for them, but it's been over a year and a half since their push notification announcement, which implicitly conceded that simple singletasking just isn't good enough. It still isn't, and push notifications are still going to be seen as a workaround.

Oh, and this video. This video!

What did that ever really mean? Aside from hubs—which are essentially widgets—I'm having trouble finding serious differences between Apple and Microsoft's philosophy here. [Mix 2010]

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DISCUSSION

How about you only allow 4 apps to be running at any given time. If you want to open another app, you have to choose which one to close. It's not a perfect solution, but it will work, is easy to implement, wont confuse my grandmother, and allows [hopefully] enough applications to satiate most people.

Better yet, let the USER decide the maximum number of apps allowed to run at any given time in a simple menu. If you want to hold yourself to 2, then you can, hold yourself to unlimited, then you can do that as well.

OK, pay me my money now for engineering an easy solution to a problem that seems to constantly be over-thought.