THE BLOG
11/03/2012 11:55 am ET Updated Jan 03, 2013

Will Windows 8 Fly in a Touch-Grounded World?

I have held back from writing much regarding my Windows 8 experience until now. I have been able to explore extensively with Windows 8 on an Intel prototype touchscreen Ultrabook for about four months now, including using it exclusively a couple of times for travel, video production and writing. What has driven my opinions the most is game developing for the operating system (see my six weeks of video, documenting our development process as part of the Ultimate Coder experience. We came in second place).

So what do I think of Windows 8? I have been asked this question repeatedly in the last week due to the official Microsoft release. I have tried to summarize my thoughts here.

As a long time hardcore windows user (many years of teaching new systems to users from the original Win 3 to the current Windows 8) and being a tech evangelist and proponent for the everyday user) I would have to say I really like the new interface. That said I am convinced that we are stuck in an in-between UX (user experience) state. One world is that of the classic desktop PC experience and the other is the world of touch. The other realization I had is that my own habits as well as others are more dependent on cloud computing than installed software.

Right away I modified the Windows 8 touch platform interface to suit my cloud intensive habits (for most of my everyday tasks I use almost all cloud based tools like Dropbox, Google Tools, Skype and Basecamp just to name a few. This took a little tweaking, but after awhile it was able to get it just right. The screen navigation really impresses me. Swiping from the side bezel to activate thumb navigation tools and multiple screen access by large swiping the screen from bezel left became second nature after a few tries.

What I noticed immediately was that I had to force myself to not default back to the desktop to navigate. Many standard everyday tools like Snip It and Task Manager are still grounded in the classic desktop UX. This I believe is key to how well the general windows user will adopt the new system. It forces the user to leap out of the touch centrc interface and break back into desktop mode. At least Windows RT solves some of this disjointedness. Microsoft had hinted at a revolutionary break from the start menu and desktop starting with Windows Vista. Like many attempts to break old habits, users I have interacted with refuse change and quickly go back to what is familiar and comfortable.

Now let me dive into a bit of theory here. Apple has built OSX and iOS with the idea that the two will share certian UX elements. Thye have not gone as far as Windows by merging the two. They did this on purpose from the beginning. My theory is that they will not expose the full breadth of the iOS brilliance within the OSX until they have the multi-touch interface fully developed even for the enterprise user. Now let's go back to Windows. I think they are on to something incredible here. Windows 8 will bring them up to speed with iOS on devices like the Surface with Windows RT. But where I think they error is introducing the interface to the world way before that world is ready to leave what they have fallen so habitually comfortable with, the clunkiness of a desktop and start menu centric interface.

I may be wrong. We will soon find out. Now this is not a leap totally in the wrong direction. Windows RT and the introduction of devices like the new Surface will allow us to see how far the touch interface of Windows 8 can go both in the marketplace and as a consumer centric operating system. For the meantime I think most users will be confused.

Last, seeing that the Surface Touch Cover and Type Cover both have a trackpad really threw me into a frustration. Why is Microsoft going this direction. It is my theory that as UX innovation continues the use of the mouse will disappear. Is touch the end all user interface? No, absolutely not. But until our our eye can be used to intuitively choose and select the smallest area in an interface, touch will continue to be the best choice for a tablet experience. And let me be very clear. The mouse and keyboard are nowhere near being dead. I still believe we have intensive uses where the pc will far outwork the tablet. But then there are uses where the tablet sans the mouse and keyboard is a far superior experience. Seeing the trackpad on a Surface Cover has only confirmed that Microsoft is not ready to break from the desktop experience.

Personally when I am at my desk I want every possible interface available to me. But when I go to any tablet experience I want to be mouseless and keyboardless. Call me a reductionist. I believe the consumer is just still most wanting a desktop experience and a tablet experience, independent of the other.