The Two Faces of Windows 8

Win8I am a Macintosh guy at heart and will likely stay that way so this article may be a little difficult for some of my Mac buddies.  Let me start with a clear statement, “Windows 8 is really not that bad”.  I say this because if you read the tech press, you get the feeling that Microsoft has really stumbled with the Windows 8 release.  In many ways, I believe this is true but I think the perspective is different depending on the hardware you use it on.

Many in the tech press have installed Windows 8 on a machine that they own.  Usually this machine was running Windows 7 and was relatively powerful.  The problem with this perspective of the new operating system is that it tries to run a truly new generation operating system on a previous generation hardware.  Now I am not saying you need more power to run Windows 8.  Microsoft has actually made the operating system faster and more fluid on older hardware in this release.  So many people believe that they have a machine capable of running Windows 8 in the machine on their desktop now.  While this is true, the magic of Windows 8 really does not begin to show up until you try it with a single new component: A touch screen interface.

I have worked with a number of people who have had to replace a PC since Windows 8 came out and have purchased a standard desktop or laptop that included Windows 8.  Every instance I have worked with have hated the interface changes windows 8 has brought.  They feel it is harder to find things, difficult to get used to, unresponsive, and in general a real step back for personal computing.  And I have to admit, under these circumstances, with this hardware, or older hardware intended for Windows 7, these people are absolutely correct.  Without the single new element of a touch screen display, Windows 8 is difficult to use and a pain to configure.  But add this touch screen and quite honestly, Microsoft may have something here that is magical.

Why a Touch Screen

A touch screen ads to the usefulness of Windows 8 in many ways.  The new interface makes so much more sense once you use it with touch.  The movements that are truly hard to get to work with a mouse are simple with your finger.  Swiping, a gesture used in Windows 8 very often, is nearly impossible with a mouse but truly effortless with a touch screen. Moving your mouse all the way across the table to get to the charms bar (a method to get to more applications and settings in Windows 8) is tough to do but swiping from the left of the screen is simple.  Now I will agree that Microsoft made a few mistakes in the release of Windows 8.  The insistence of having no Start menu and the inability to boot the machine directly to the desktop are a couple you hear about a lot.  And these really make sense to those using the old mouse and standard screen that many used to test Windows 8.  But even these complaints make much less sense if you can simply swipe on the screen or touch an icon with your finger.  Fortunately, Microsoft was listening to the criticism and added these features back in the soon to be released Windows 8.1 version as a free update.

I have until recently been talking about Windows 8 in a similar vein.  I tested it when it was released on existing hardware and found all the problems and difficulties to be valid.  I recommended people I work with to seek out a Windows 7 machine (which are still available from Dell Small Business) and skip the Windows 8 “experience”  But this past weekend I picked up a low cost Windows 8  convertible machine with a touch display and I have to say that just these few days have made me change my opinion.

A convertible laptop is a tablet screen that can be docked into a keyboard to make it function like a more traditional laptop.  This style of machine is a mix of older hardware, with a trackpad and keyboard, and newer touch screen technology.  It allows the undocking of the screen, which really contains the computer, and allows its use as a tablet.  With Windows 8, this type of computer is a perfect combination (listen up Apple). Using the tablet with Windows 8 is a real pleasure.  While I am not yet a fan of the Metro style interface, I can see how things are supposed to function in Windows 8.  Then when I need a keyboard, docking the unit back to the keyboard dock, which has an additional battery that recharges the tablet, is a fine way to work on older Windows applications.  The specific unit I have used has a less than optimal touch pad but other than that, works in traditional fashion very well.

Now that I have used this device, I must say my Windows 8 recommendations are a little different.  I am not as skeptical that Microsoft missed the mark.  I really think that Microsoft may be thinking a little too far ahead for the traditional Windows computer user.  In an effort to get ahead of the curve, Windows 8 really caters itself to new generation hardware.  In its current release, it makes computers without touch capability actually harder to use.  Windows 8.1 will assist by adding a few requests from the masses but it still will not make it all work easily without touch.

My recommendations on Windows 8

Do not upgrade a standard Windows 7 machine to Windows 8.  Wait for your next computer purchase to make a change

If you need to purchase a new computer with Windows 8 now, only consider machines (desktop or laptop) with a touch screen display

If you want to purchase a new standard machine without touch, wait until later this year when Windows 8.1 is released to ease some of the frustration

It’s time to give Microsoft a break here on Windows 8 and look at it in the context of what it was intended to run on.  If you do that, your Windows 8 experience will be much improved and you may actually grow to like the changes just like I have.

As for my beloved Apple…. watch this convertible form factor.  I would love a Mac with a touch display that could be undocked to run as an iPad.  Now that would be really cool.

IdeatabThe Lenovo Ideatab Lynx

The Lenovo Ideatab Lynx is a tablet computer running full Windows 8.  It has an optional keyboard dock that makes it into a convertible style laptop.  With an Atom processor, 2gb ram, and 64gb solid state disk, it is not a powerhouse by today’s standards but runs Windows 8 and all standard office applications very well.