Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
10/18/2012
09:03 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
Commentary
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Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?

Keyboard and mouse users have little reason to celebrate when Microsoft's new OS rolls out. Does that make me a dinosaur?

This post-PC era we've embarked on sure seems to have a lot of PCs in it.

That's what I think every time I'm in a shared space where people do work--coffeehouses, airports, co-working offices, and so forth. Take the coffee joint I visit a couple of times a week. Unlike some spots, people seem to go here to work. Good luck finding a seat if you arrive much after 9 on a weekday morning. They're occupied by salespeople, developers, designers, entrepreneurs, students, and navel-gazing writers. It strikes me as a fairly representative sample of the modern mobile workforce. And although I'm generalizing, they're all using laptops. (Plenty of the laptops are Macs, but that's a different story.)

Sure, there's a smartphone on the table next to every laptop. There are also iPads, though they're less ubiquitous than phones. Yet people are still hunting and pecking, pointing and clicking. The laptop is where people get stuff done.

I find this reassuring. I happen to like the laptop, and that's one of the main things that makes me a little itchy about Windows 8. Microsoft's reboot seems to relegate the keyboard-and-mouse crowd to the cargo hold, while upgrading tablet and other touch device users to first class. Microsoft is not hiding from that, either. The system requirements for the Windows 8 Release Preview say the OS "works great on the same hardware that powers Windows 7." True enough, but a few bullet points down you'll find this note: "To use touch, you need a tablet or a monitor that supports multi-touch."

What about folks more inclined to use a touchpad than a touchscreen? (And what about a mouse? They still make those, right?) I'm not old enough to be a dinosaur, am I?

[ Is it suddenly Apple's turn to catch up? See Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely. ]

I actually think the Windows 8 UI looks good. While the app-centric design is a little too consumer-oriented for my tastes, there are many potential business uses in changes like SkyDrive integration. And I'm sure (or at least hope) more business apps will come in due time to balance out the less productive apps. Beyond the UI, InformationWeek readers have also pointed out some compelling reasons why they're excited for Windows 8, such as improved dual monitor support, Storage Spaces, and under-the-hood improvements.

The UI--a major change--is going to cause user disruption in organizations that adopt quickly.

But people can learn a new UI. That's a solvable problem. What's less clear is why I would use an OS that is clearly designed for tablets and other touch-screen devices when I'm not using one of those devices. Maybe that does make me a dinosaur, but it's nice to know I've got some company. "Windows 8 is designed for tablets and smartphones. Makes no sense for a desktop PC to behave like that, sticking with Windows 7 which I am very satisfied with," says one reader, "RichMNY". "BTW, I have a smartphone, happy with this type of interface for this type of device."

I agree. I like the touch interface on my phone; it also makes sense on tablets. I don't get it on the PC. I'm sure over time, more and more people will use touch-screen PCs or laptop-tablet hybrids that include keyboards, particularly once retail stocks are replaced with Windows 8 hardware. But I'm reasonably skeptical that touch PCs will have the same sweeping impact as smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets.

You can indeed use Windows 8 with a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. And, as plenty of people have pointed out, you can even roll back the UI to include the familiar Start button if you simply can't bear to live without it. But that indicates to me that the QWERTY crowd is better off sticking with Windows 7 for now.

Responding to Paul McDougall's recent piece on why Windows 8 beats the Mac, reader "JPolk" says: "Microsoft jumped the gun on touch. The bulk of the PC world simply can't use it in the workplace and that's where most of the computing is done." Reader "Paul987" echoes that perspective: "I need a UI that best facilitates that work. And despite the inability of people who presumably don't do that type of work to understand, touch simply isn't optimal for those tasks." Other readers respond with what they are missing with a touch-centric UI on a PC. It's an interesting discussion to check out.

The pre-launch marketing for Windows 8 effectively weighs in with Microsoft's position on that debate. A decidedly consumer-centric video on the Windows 8 release preview site begins with the tagline: "All you need to stay in touch."

It's a nice pun, but I still don't think I get it.

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msimko110
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msimko110,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 5:47:29 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I agree completely that it makes no sense for desktops. It's harder to use on a desktop because of the split personality of the OS.
As far as learning to use it, the horizontal swipes with the mouse feel unnatural. The extra movement and time involved in moving the mouse to a corner and waiting for widgets to pop up is frustrating. tiles winking on and off as content updates is distracting.
Win 8 is not a productivity OS. It is lots of eye candy and has no place in the business world. That will become evident quickly. Using it for business will be like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. You may succeed, but it will be hard, messy, and cause a lot of damage.
Just what the hell were they thinking?!
eric1972
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eric1972,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 5:33:47 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Mobile is where everything is headed, and touchscreens are the future until we get to more advanced ways of working our computers and tablets. (eye movement tracking works better than speech or gestures and is much more practical in an environment where there are other people around). Tablets and phones will be a popular way to access the internet for a generation, but it will mostly stick to email and video on the run. Need to watch the news while on the train/bus? You have your tablet. Need to work? You have your laptop where touchscreens will eventually become ubiquitous making the mouse obsolete. I expect that to happen by the early to mid 20's. For now, Win8 is about five years too soon.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 5:25:08 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Mel, I disagree with you on a couple of points.

No, MS did not jump the gun. They have little presence (thus far) in the table/phone market and the way to get there is NOT to force Win7 on a tablet or even on a smart phone. The market has already weighed in on that idea.

If you actually take an objective look at Win8, you will see that in the long run a unified UI and OS platform for apps (native and cloud) across all devices is where the industry will end up. Apple will be next to make this leap and will combine iOS and OS X. I also predict that Google's vision (ala Chrome OS) will also be realized in time as SaaS will become the dominant way we use software.
ANON1238069211759
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ANON1238069211759,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 5:20:01 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I agree with the laptop thing. I LOVE my XPS laptop and would never give it up to a tabet. People complain to me that their brand new Latitude is too heavy at time... Really? Where were these people 10-15 years ago when people could not believe they could take their work home with them or work anywhere outside their cubicle while "lugging" home a 10 pound computer. While iPads do have a purpose (yes, I have one) they are great for web surfing and quick emails, but I could never work on one. Now, when the world is totally in "the cloud" maybe then I can give up my DVD/USB/multiple monitor loving laptop.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2012 | 4:30:32 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
There's no doubt that Microsoft jumped the gun on this. They have no presence in the tablet market, the fastest growing segment of the computing market. They have almost no presence in the smartphone market either.

This was a way to quickly force people into using a UI they apparently don't care much for, going by the failure of the Zune HD, and the failure, so far, of Win Phone. I would bet they only did this because they could see no other way to get people to use the UI.
JPolk
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JPolk,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 3:52:23 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I think in time some other interface will win out. I would venture it will be touch and speech. We're not there yet, at least not for heavy work. I think it's a mistake to make the kind of leap MS is making right now.

In its current state, touch is unable to facilitate the bulk of input. I edit audio files and have to move them between applications. There is no application that can bring together all of the necessary functions that I need to perform. I can't even completely script these processes. And scripting is another thing. "Post-PC" devices are terrible multi-taskers. Yes, things can happen in the background. But what if I want to take data from app to app?

There is no post-pc era yet. As exciting as tablets and smartphones are they simply aren't up to the task of but a percentage of what workstations and desktops do. I think what we're seeing is a move from the home PC to a mobile PC but even so, I'd suspect that most people have a PC at home for manipulating serious data. Even if that data is just the family budget.
Les Moor
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Les Moor,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 2:46:27 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Kevin, I am in your camp. I see the value in MS continuing with a PC-centric OS, even if they are trying to make it more touch-based. Tablets and smartphones are well suited to certain tasks, but until voice control is as granular a control as a keyboard with the ability to enter and edit large amounts of text quickly, a laptop/desktop is the way to go for "real" work. Ever run a spreadsheet, presentation, or word processing program on tablet/smartphone? Not saying it isn't possible, but part of the problem with running them on tablets/smartphones is lack of keyboard, part of it is lack of screen real estate. Since I can't buy OS X to run on my PC, the answer is still Windows.
Mattrock
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Mattrock,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 2:34:06 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
My desktop PC has an AMD FX-8150 processor (8-core, 3.6 GHz), 16 GB RAM, a 256-bit, 2 GB video card, 192 KHz/ 24-bit sound card, a 256 GB SSD, a 2 TB HDD, blu-ray and DVD-burner drives, a 27" LED monitor, and for input devices, I have a Logitech G500 mouse, G510 keyboard, and Saitek X52 flight control system. Granted, as one friend put it recently, my PC was outdated by the time I finished typing those stats. But why all that horsepower? Because I love games, and I edit audio on my home PC. It would take a whole lot of tablets and smart phones to play Battlefield 3 as smoothly as this machine does... and at least two Macs ;)

As tablets and smart phones get stronger, so will PC's. I think anyone that states the PC is dying out isn't worth listening to any further, if I'm honest. You can't write software on a smart phone or a tablet... not comfortably, anyway. Desktops will always be the front line of personal computing might, followed not far behind by laptops. Why? Because there will always be guys like me out there, that want a whole lot more than what tablets and phones can provide.
JPolk
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JPolk,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 1:57:33 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Wow! Thanks for the quote!
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