Microsoft, the world's largest operating system maker, after hearing years of comments on how we are living in a "post-PC" era in which users are using their smartphones and tablets more than their PCs (supposedly) made one of the most ambitious moves in its history with its upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft decided to use touch to drive its interface.
I. Windows 8 Touch -- Not the Mayan Apocalypse (Though People Think it is)
Touch is a very threatening prospect to many users as they fear that Microsoft will under-deliver experience-wise for traditional mouse-and-keyboard systems. In a recent official Windows Team blog on touch progress, many of the comments were complaints griping about lacking experience for traditional non-touch input hardware.
Writes "pffft", "how about a more mouse friendly ui and you change the name from WINDOWS to WINDOW because you can only view one at a time.....that works really great."
Windows President Steven Sinofsky thus far has dodged these questions. While he noticeably answered some other minor questions in the comments section, he refused to address the criticism surrounding non-touch hardware experience, thus far. But you can be he's listening.
This is the huge elephant in the room and it's hard to even begin a discussion on Windows 8 touch without first putting it out there and putting things in perspective.
There are a few things, however, that everyone should keep in mind:
1. The beta (Consumer Preview) is meant to test emerging features.
Microsoft already has tried and true traditional input in Windows 7. While Windows 8 will likely be a bit faster for such systems and pack some nice improvements to the system utilities, the key new I/O feature is touch. So it makes sense that the Consumer Preview would fixate on touch.
2. Multi-touch + keyboard + mouse is the future of I/O.
The reaction to touch is similar to the reaction to the mouse in the 1980s, when most consumers most experienced them. Many users thought that you should only need a keyboard to control your system and were angered at OSs that were built around the mouse. The reaction to multi-touch is no different. While arguably the addition of touch to the already rich mouse/keyboard I/O atmosphere offers the best experience yet, users will be upset at Microsoft for "wasting" time on innovation. Someday when the next great I/O transitition comes along, these customers will likely be among the same to complain about "why can't we just make Windows work on good old-fashioned multi-touch devices". You can't stop progress.
3. Oh great, my Windows 8 screen will be covered in fingerprints....
Well, perhaps not -- displaymakers are increasingly moving towards oleophobic (oil resistant) displays, such as the display found in Apple, recent iPhone model. While this won't prevent oil deposition, it makes smudge-free cleaning as simple as a swipe of a dry cloth (as the oil doesn't adhere to the surface).
II. Windows 8 Focuses on 2-Finger Touch
Touch debate aside, Microsoft's latest blog is all about touch. It outlines a fundamental gesture set, which is based on 2-finger gestures:
At first this may seem like a step back from Apple's iOS, which incorporates up to five fingers in its core UI gestures. But keep in mind that the majority of Apple's gestures use two-finger touch.
Those that do not (four/five finger swipe to switch apps, four/five finger pinch to go to home screen, four/five finger swipe up to open multi-tasking menu) largely are predicated on the lack of a taskbar. In Windows your taskbar (the classic multi-tasking menu) is always there; you're always on the homescreen. Thus switching apps is never more than two simple clicks away, which is arguably more intuitive that a complex multi-finger gesture, followed by a click.
Furthermore, Windows is designed for real work, thus the idea of using a multi-finger swipe up (essentially the equivalent of ALT+TAB) or a multi-finger swipe sideways (essentially the equivalent of WINDOWS+TAB) to switch between apps would be useless given the large number of apps currently open and the high degree of jumping between apps non-chronologically. It makes sense in a tablet world, though, so Microsoft might consider adopting it in the long run for that niche.
III. Windows 8 Working on Windows 7 Touch hardware
The 2-finger requirement also allows Microsoft's Windows 8 to work well on older Windows 7 touch hardware such as:
- HP Elitebook 2760p convertible
- ASUS EP121 tablet
- Dell Inspiron Duo convertible
- Lenovo x220t convertible
- 3M M2256PW 22” display
- Samsung Series 7 slate