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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StygianAgenda
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StygianAgenda,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 8:22:07 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I tested Windows 8 about 3 weeks before the RTM was released. At that time, I found that the OS felt like a toy made for the average-joe-consumer.

A few months went by, and I decided that I'd go ahead and upgrade my Acer Iconia Tab W500 (x86 tablet). In the time in between my initial testing, and my purchase of my license, Acer had published a complete driver and application suite for Windows 8 to replace the set that they had released for Windows 7. This made my transition a breeze... with one exception... one which was alleviated as soon as I picked up a copy of "Start8" by Stardock, the makers of Window Blinds (the skinning app for earlier versions of Windows). Start8 gave me back my Windows 7 style start menu, and allows me to login directly to the desktop, rather than to the NUI (Metro).

I've now been running Windows 8 Pro on my Iconia W500 for about a month, and I'll admit that it's a much better fit *as a tablet OS* than Ubuntu 12.04, which I keep a 16GB USB-stick installation of with me at all times as part of my gear for tech support on the road, where I need power and versatility at all times. Between the 2 OS's, I'm able to do the greater majority of tasks I need to perform. Now, I can see where most people are coming from when they say that their tablet isn't up to doing production work. The majority of tablets out there today are based on ARM chipsets, or something equally underwhelming. The reality is, nothing has changed... either you do your research before hand and get the machine that fits your needs, or you forego all of that and get whatever you end up with, based on whatever popular trend the sales staff are riding at the moment. If you buy an under-powered tablet, expecting to do production work on it, don't be surprised to find that you've totally wasted your money on a trendy piece of garbage. On the other hand, if you do your research and locate a system that meets your hardware needs and works with the OS code that you want to run on it, then you may very well come away with a tablet that rivals many people's desktop PCs.

In my case, with my Acer Iconia W500, I did my research up front. First, I had to guarantee that the system would run Ubuntu and other comparable Linux OS's [check]. Second, it had to be bootable off of every drive interface (SD-Card, internal SSD, USB) [check]. Thirdly, it had to support multi-touch, because I knew that several touch based initiatives were in the works when I started thinking about this purchase (10 months ago now) [Check]. Once I had enough data to make an informed decision, I bought the Iconia W500, and have been happy with it ever since. There has been little, if anything at all, that I haven't loved about this little machine. The fact that it seamlessly upgraded to Windows 8 was a bonus. The W500 originally came loaded with Windows 7 Home. As soon as I got the system out of the box and verified that it came with restore media in case I had to return it during it's warranty period, I formatted the machine and replaced windows 7 home with Windows 7 Enterprise, and then built out an Ubuntu USB stick for it as well. Now, after having integrated Start8 into Windows 8 Pro, I don't foresee wanting to change the OS on my tablet for a couple of years.

Granted, there was a bit of a learning curve... and until I installed Start8, it was irritating the crap outta me to have to go digging down into the file system to create desktop shortcuts to the legacy apps and functions I use regularly (Windows Run Box, MSTSC, UltraVNC Viewer, VMWare Infrastructure Client, and several others), but once Start8 was installed, that was no longer an issue.

Now, I understand the feelings of those that believe that Start8's functions should have been a part of the base-OS-installation, but this isn't the first time this has happened... if you think back... way back, you'll probably remember an old adage from the MS-DOS era, "Bill makes the OS, Peter fixes it", which was a reference to Bill Gates (MS) and Peter Norton (Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, etc). Microsoft has *always* sold a 'just good enough' solution, then left the extensive cosmetics to 3rd parties. With so many people complaining about the new interface in Windows 8, I would think someone within the vast numbers of tech savvy people out there today would have mentioned Start8 in more places and more of these discussions. Basically, it fixes everyone's #1 complaint about Windows 8. It costs $5 (USD), and has a 30 day trial before it either has to be purchased or removed from the system. I've used it for a week now, and can't find a single flaw with it, so I'll be buying my license for Start8 tomorrow night after I get home from work.
DudeWhoCodes
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DudeWhoCodes,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/24/2012 | 4:03:16 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
This is simple. Content creation is done with a full PCs (be it Windows, Mac or Linux... laptop or desktop). Content consumption is done with touch-centric devices. There most people who produce also consume content, but there are a lot of people who only consume content. Prior to the iPad, content consumer only types had to purchase production machines when they didn't need to. Now that they have a choice, it is only natural for PC sales to fall a bit. There will be no "post-PC" era because producers will always need a real machine for their work.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
10/24/2012 | 3:40:09 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I can't argue with that - I too do end user support and those who can barely use the computer now will have the same problems with Win8.
bperrin34601
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bperrin34601,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 10:21:04 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I have been using Windows 8 both as a Beta and a pre-release and I have to express puzzlement. The interface is different and took some getting used to but I find that the performance of the operating system and the speed with which I can access the apps I use most are both compelling reasons to retire Windows 7 and move on. In a short time, our company will be rolling out about 500 virtual desktops and I intend that Windows 8 be the operating system of choice throughout the company. Even the steep learning curve we expect to encounter from some of the users will be well compensate with the obvious increase in productivity we have seen with the pre-release versions of the OS.

I was looking back at some of the comments that I encountered during previous releases of Window's operating systems and, although I cannot attest to it, I would be willing to bet many of the same people are complaining now as then.

Regardless, I see the upgrade as inevitable so why not do it now when the interest is highest and the resistance is lowest. Get it over with and get ahead of the crowd.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 9:01:13 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Well, the good news is you get the old familiar desktop right along with that newfangled touch interface. Problem solved for you.
KingBolete
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KingBolete,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 3:27:07 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
It's deja vu all over again. When the web first started to get hot, MS had the brilliant idea of making the PC desktop look like the web. Why anyone, other than a clueless marketeer, would think that putting a severely handcuffed UI framework onto a PC would be a step forward, I do not know. It sounds like MS is again trying to shoehorn an interaction framework for a specialized platform onto the PC and is likely to be about as successful as the last time aroundGă÷they don't seem to learn from their mistakes. The only bright spot for MS is that Win8 might be a step forward for tablets and smartphones, but the hue and cry from PC users is going to significantly taint any buzz they get from mobile platform.

The ugly rework of MS Word in 2007 drove me to LibreOffice; will Win8 do the same for Windows? If you have to invest significant time to regain the ability to use a piece of software then you have to decide whether that time is best spent on the existing software or something entirely different.
JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 3:54:55 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Microsoft worked out a deal with hardware manufacturers so desktop and laptop computers could be shipped with Win7 already installed, plus an option for WinXP mode. Can't something like that be done for new PCs/laptops, i.e. pre-installing Win8 with an option for Win7? There are lots of individuals and companies needing a hardware refresh that can do without the touchscreens for now. What's so bad about going about your business using a 2009 monitor, keyboard and mouse with a 2013 computer that came with Win8?
jconnor34101
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jconnor34101,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 1:22:54 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I have been using WIN8 since day one. If I don't like "Metro' (I know the name is changing) I can just click to get out of it and I am in a "normal" desktop. I use MAC OS X 10.8.2 daily and i feel they both have strengths and weaknesses - but mostly it is where something is placed. Now that WIN8 starts up faster - a full blown OS X 10.8.2 with 50 startups is up and going in 2-3 minutes on my MACBOOK Pro. WIN7 on an HP i7 2nd gen could take me 5-6 minutes and now WIN8 puts it on par with my MAC. The Windows Ball that used to be on the right side is no big deal just a different place bnow to get the same things - left side and then the settings popup. It is mostly a placement game for the UI. The big deal is under the covers - speed and stability.
daflory
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daflory,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 12:34:08 PM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
I think the main advantage of Windows 8 is that it is a single OS that can work effectively on both tablets and powerful desktops.

Windows 8 is well suited to a future where the technical lines between the higher-end tablets, laptops, and desktops will become increasingly fuzzy.

Apple, by comparison, must eventually deal with technical abyss between iOS and OS X. What OS will a future high-end iPad run, and how will Apple bridge the gap between handy iPad apps and full-featured Mac applications? If I eventually buy a Win8 tablet, I can use many of the same programs and switch freely between, say, Onenote and Onenote MX depending on which interface is better suited for the interface I am using at the moment.
Samir Shah
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Samir Shah,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 7:43:41 AM
re: Windows 8: Are PC People Out Of Touch?
Yes.
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