Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Windows 8 - Tenth Pass: Driving the Touchscreen

It is obvious that Microsoft plans to drive the touchscreen as being the primary way we interact with a PC in the future, much in the same way we interact with smartphones and tablets now. I agree that it is the future but it isn’t now. Window 8 however is relying on that being the future and those unhappy with not being able to touch the screen of their desktop in their cubicle at work will eventually get over it.

Several times during the launch event, they referred to the start screen as “beautiful” and that it work great with both a touchscreen or with a keyboard and mouse. I found it interesting that during the rest of the demo they didn’t use the keyboard or mouse once, confirming to me that it really isn’t designed for a keyboard and mouse but that if you care to figure it out it will work with a keyboard and mouse. In other words, the intuitive part of it is only for touchscreen-based devices.

Fortunately, for them the second demo did use a keyboard and mouse the entire time. I actually learned a few new keyboard and mouse shortcuts for interacting with the start screen on a non-touch device. While that helps me use Windows 8 on my existing non-touch laptop it does mean I have to remember how to interact with the operating system based on the type of hardware I’m using. Microsoft must think I’m smarter than I really am.

The best part of the start screen demo was when the elephant in the room was finally brought up. The presenter asked if the Start Button worked for people as opposed to the Start Screen. I along with half the room raised my hand. This is what I had been waiting for; tell us why the Start Button was gone forever?

According to Microsoft, the Start Button took too long to use. Think about that for a while and then do some trials comparing how long it takes you to do the same functionality between the Start Button and the Start Screen on a non-touch enabled device. Oh, wait. There it is. A non-touch enabled device. The Start Button is very difficult to use with your fingers and since Windows 8 is all about the touchscreen, you now have your answer, at least according to Microsoft.

As the demo concluded they emphasized that Windows 8 brings work and home together. I look forward to seeing how that pans out. How many work computers will get touchscreens? How many corporate IT shops will allow users to login using personal MSN accounts to access corporate resources and then take those some accounts home? How many supervisors will want users bringing in games from home?

Microsoft admits that the change to start screen is a big change and that there is no legacy mode. They don't admit why.