Software // Operating Systems
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4/8/2013
10:23 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help

Windows 8 emphasizes touchscreen capabilities, but there are several scenarios where I see little benefit for information workers.

Touchscreens, which have helped to make smartphones the must-have device for most information workers, have generated a more mixed reaction when the technology is deployed on personal computers.

InformationWeek.com reader jqbecker recently said of Windows 8's touchscreen orientation: "Most [small and midsize businesses] are actually doing WORK, not looking up cat videos on the Internet. By work I mean a lot of typing into Word documents, and entering data into spreadsheets."

That sounds like the world I live in, a tad more so than Microsoft's Surface Pro commercial. (Even the coolest offices I've worked in didn't break out into synchronized dance routines.) It also jives with the day-to-day of many of the SMBs I speak with. Their focus is on productivity and profit, even when "cool" is part of the business model. I'd wager that premise extends well into the largest of businesses, too.

[ There are arguments on the other side. Read Windows 8 Doubt: 4 Ways To Sway PC People. ]

That's been a big part of my problem with the touchscreen emphasis evident in Windows 8 and the early looks at Windows Blue. PCs might not be in vogue but they're still core tools for lots and lots of workers, me included. As reader justindunn noted: "Most of us have decades of experience with a mouse and keyboard, and I for one won't give them up for something because it makes me look cool when I am working or presenting material."

I know desktop mode in Windows 8 is a click away. (Google, for one, says the same about the competition.) I know about Classic Shell. I do see upside in Windows 8. But I still see fundamental shortcomings in an OS that prioritizes touch -- an interface native to tablets and smartphones -- on a laptop or desktop.

A counterpoint to my perspective: I'm shortsighted. This is the future of computing. Change is challenging. Adapt or get left behind.

But adaptation should be driven by productive value. Change for the sake of change is as inefficient as a stubborn refusal to try new and better ways of doing things. While I can see applications and uses where a touchscreen PC might someday offer advantages, there are several business-critical areas where I see little benefit. Here are three of them.

1. Long-Form Content Creation

In my case, "long-form content creation" is just a fancy-pants way to say: "writing." It's what I do. As a result, I spend a good chunk of my workday in Word documents and, to a lesser extent, Google Docs. Perhaps a future Office release will reveal innovative new ways to create and edit substantial documents via touch -- rather than simply read and review them, as we do more often on tablets and phones today. We'll see. As someone who earns a living on a keyboard, let's just say those would have to be some pretty phenomenal innovations. Does Windows 8 mean I can't use a keyboard? Of course not, but it does subordinate clicking and clacking to touching and swiping.

Content creation includes a much broader set of jobs and applications -- essentially, we're talking about folks whose job requires generating and modifying large amounts of data in various forms. A reader recently emailed me because she's in the market for a new work PC. An architect, she's unsure whether Windows 8 is a fit for her uses and applications, such as SketchUp and computer-aided design (CAD) software. "I have a hard time envisioning a touch-screen interface out-pacing the mouse/keyboard interface for those kinds of applications," she wrote. "Maybe, but I just need someone to show me how."

2. Excel

Excel remains a mainstay in many businesses. I use Excel quite a bit, too, mainly for managing the administrative necessities of self-employment. My spreadsheets are child's play compared to what some CPAs, finance pros and other number-crunchers are doing. And I can't fathom how a touchscreen PC would help them -- much less Excel wimps like me -- be more productive with spreadsheets. Slicing and dicing rows upon rows of cells and formulas by swiping and "pinching" your fingers? That seems like a nightmare. (If you're a finance or accounting pro and see advantages of using Excel or other applications with a touchscreen, I'd love to hear from you.)

The same might be said of the broader set of accounting and finance platforms that involve the entry and manipulation of vast amounts of numbers and other data. That was one of reader jqbecker's reasons for doubt: "You ever see a [doctor] try to enter patient charts on a touch screen? Too painful to watch. How about an accountant entering data via touch into QuickBooks? Too slow."

3. Custom & Industry-Specific Apps

If homegrown or "legacy" apps cause pain for companies moving from XP to Windows 7, what does that mean for Windows 8 and its UI overhaul?

This is a difficult area to quantify because, by nature, it's comprised of a hodgepodge of custom-built or industry-specific applications, some built forever ago. It's safe to say that few of those apps were developed with touchscreens in mind. Yet plenty of businesses rely on such applications, whether developed in-house or by a third party, and Windows 8 compatibility and support issues can be a cause for caution with the new OS.

No doubt, this also an area of opportunity for touchscreens. I met a home appraiser a while back, for example, who had all but replaced paper and the traditional PC with an iPad running an app developed specifically for his job: assessing the value of a home and the property it sits on. There's a big opportunity for the touch-centric future Windows in those kinds of (very) specific business uses, but there's probably a ways to go before that is reality.

I appreciate all of the thoughtful responses and comments on this topic, whether they agree, disagree or are somewhere in between. Keep them coming.

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turbo2600
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turbo2600,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2013 | 6:03:04 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
While I acknowledge the fact that touch cannot replace keyboards and mice, why not look at the technology in an traditional desktop environment more as a supplement to existing methods? Nice to have it when you need it, out of the way when you don't. Touch is here and here to stay - MS acknowledged that, and needed an OS that can transcend different environments and device types. It allows for apps such as Excel to be used on devices such as tablets - keep working the way you have been in a desktop environment if you need to and if that's what your comfortable and productive with.
Faye Kane, homeless brain
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Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 9:22:51 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
==--
So when people tell how they really feel about metro, it's "a Windows 8 bashing rant", is it?

You find the mouse "annoying", do you?

"The feature set and stability/quickness of the OS" sold you, did it?

"I never used the start button anyway", you say?

"8 is the saviour!", you declare?

Dishonest, disingenuous Redmond marketing shill!

Kevin, go get the IP addresses of all the commenters who preach how wonderful 8 is and scold you for telling the truth. They'll all be from the same place.

Then publish it here. Truth may not be beauty and it certainly doesn't set you free, but it's reeeal good at humiliating liars.

--faye
Faye Kane, homeless brain
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Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 9:09:37 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
==--
>" I'm shortsighted. This is the future of computing. Change is challenging. Adapt or get left behind. "

No, Kevin! You're just parroting what the MS marketing shills keep writing in your comments section because you figure you still have take Win 8 seriously.

IGNORE THEM, KEVIN.

Ballmer knows very well how horrible touch is for Word and Excel. How could he not, unless he's never used it at his desk (which may be the case)? The grotesquely unusable metro interface was put in 8 because Ballmer figures that if he forces us to use it on the desktop, we'll buy his overpriced, underperforming tablets and even worse telephones. And metro is still in 8 because the shocked systems designers knew what happens to people who tell him his idea is horrible.

Metro/touch is cynical, insulting, and the last straw in Microsoft's arrogant, backhanded dismissivness of their customers. It's unusable on the enterprise desktop computer, period. You know it. Everyone knows it. Ballmer knows it, and so do his comment shills.

So just say so. Tell the (obvious) truth and stop hedging your bets. Ballmer bet against his customers once too often, and it's time for the industry to tell him "Oooo, snake eyes! GG I'm sorry sir! Now please step back from the table. Next rollah! GG Congratulations, Mister Linux!"

-- faye kane GG girl brain
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 8:16:49 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
Kevin, when are you going to get off the bash Win8 campaign? This is really getting old now. I don't see a big problem with Win8. Certainly not big enough for anyone to drone on and on about imaginary problems.

You write as if Win8's useless when it comes to touch vs. keyboard. Fact is, you have the best of both worlds that benefits whatever form factor you are running Win8 on.

If you start any Office program from the Modern interface, it then runs in desktop mode and you work with it just like you always did. But, you already know that. So why do you pick at Win8 then about a non-issue? Use a bluetooth keyboard if you need to bang out a lot of text input. btw - try running Office on an iPad...

On desktops and non-touch devices, I simply install Start8 and my customers can adjust the experience to whatever works best for them.

TMagrini850
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TMagrini850,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 6:30:39 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
"But adaptation should be driven by productive value." That one sentence is the key to the entire article. Touch capability on smartphones and tablets was driven by productive value. The result being wide adoption of these devices in business. Whether the touch capability of Windows 8 will drive productive value remains to be seen.
koot
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koot,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 5:36:41 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
Windows 8 is great. Been using it since it's release. I'm using it on 2 desktops and am using a 23 inch touch screen on one. I don't own a smart phone, due to non camera restrictions at work. The apps are great and work well with majority of them free. Runs faster than Win 7 and runs everything I ran on XP which was a great OS considering it's age and is still being used by many corps. Each day I find new abilities with the OS. Great step forward MS. PS I'm not getting a dime for the tout. Open your mind to new and give it a try folks. You'll get to love it.
midmachine
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midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 5:30:00 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
Well, at least it wasn't a Windows 8 bashing rant that I have seen far too much of. More of a thoughtful look at the realities of the OS I in real-world environments - nice breath of fresh air.
I agree with all of Kevin's points and in my talks with some MS people I made the same ones, Enterprise adoption of this OS (and also by "work" users) needs to be addressed with an option for a desktop only interface. I get around fine with my keyboard, I have always been one to shy away form the mouse - I find it annoying. That being said I work in graphics, spreadsheets and audio files at home and installed Win 8 upgrade while it was cheap (after testing for many months). Feature set and stability/quickness of the OS sold me. I do not have touch devices but knowing the keyboard shortcuts gets me around just fine. Setting Windows Explorer as a running task at boot drops me to the desktop immediately. Don't miss the start button, as I always used Windows key shortcuts since Win 98.
Mr. Gigabob
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Mr. Gigabob,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 5:07:51 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
I appreciate the arguments and am reminded of the great Philipe Khan's response to Windows when asked why he supported two versions of his superior spreadsheet Quattro-Pro - "...we have Quattro-Pro for Windows and Quattro-Pro for Cash" - referring to the DOS version.

While today's touch is a step backwards for work productivity - it will be quite a few years before a successful voice interface can be commercialized. And let's not underestimate the degree to which gesture needs to be incorporated to create advanced interaction. So the industry markets "Cool" to overlook the fact that touch is just the beginning of an interface evolution that needs a major alteration of human behavior for that interaction to advance.

I contrast this with a call from a colleague asking for insight as to why with an aging population no one is making things that were easier to understand. As a aging technophile I look with more than a little concern on the coming divide between the bulk of the asset holding population and the brainpower to move society to the next level.

For you twitters out there - "Windows 8 is not great, but there's still time to innovate."
ANON1242219167129
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ANON1242219167129,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 5:03:55 PM
re: Windows 8 Doubt: 3 Ways Touch Won't Help
I agree that touchscreens are inherently low bandwidth interfaces, probably lower than the mouse alone, but much lower than a keyboard driven by an experienced touch typist. Until another interface with a comparable bandwidth comes along, keyboards and mice are here to stay.
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