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Windows 8 tablet: Split personality OS is a potential killer feature

Some reviewers think the Windows 8 OS has a split personality, which is incongruent, but Patrick Gray thinks that could be a potential killer feature.

When the Windows 8 Consumer Preview hit the shelves, several reviewers noted that the OS has what seems like split personalities -- the new Metro-style interface with a more traditional Windows desktop awkwardly lurking in the background. This split continues all the way to the bundled applications, with the OS featuring what amounts to two discrete versions of Internet Explorer (IE) -- one designed for the Metro interface and the other an evolution of the IE we've all come to know. While some reviewers have questioned this seeming incongruity, I see it as a potential killer feature.

The next big Windows evolution

If you were around when Windows 3.0 first began taking over enterprise computing, you probably remember the awkward relationship between text-driven MS-DOS and Windows. "Native" Windows software was a relatively new phenomenon, and DOS-based software running in a window was a very common sight.

With Windows 95 and NT4, the command prompt became a component of Windows and eventually faded from perception, with your average user rarely experiencing it or even being aware of its existence. Windows 8 represents a similar and even more complex evolution. Early versions of Windows changed how we interacted with our desktops, shifting from a text-based computing experience to graphical, mouse-driven interfaces. Metro represents an evolution in not only the interface -- shifting from mouse to finger -- but in form factor as well. In the Windows 3.0 days, laptops were a tool for corporate types rather than a common appliance, and tablets were a dream of computer scientists and sci-fi writers. Allowing the traditional desktop to coexist with this new computing paradigm allows users and developers alike to adapt to Metro.

The split personality advantage

As I mentioned, not only does Windows 8 come at a time when our interaction with our computers is changing, but form factors are changing as well. I don't believe Metro makes as much sense on the desktop as it does for a touch-driven device, and I'm not sure we'll see touch become the de facto standard on the desktop in the near future, so an OS with split personalities makes a great deal of sense.

I've frequently wondered why device manufacturers don't do a better job of letting our devices -- phones, tablets, and even desktops -- change the way they interact with us based on context. Mobile phone profiles and themes were a good start, but Windows 8 might truly embrace contextual computing, whereby our computing experience changes based on whether we're using the device as a tablet, docked with a keyboard and mouse, or (in the future) even based on the location or activities we're performing.

I'm looking forward to loading my copy of the Consumer Preview to see this split personality OS in action. If executed well, this could not only be an evolutionary crutch but the start of a march toward context-aware computing. Done poorly, we may be brought back to the awkward days of misbehaving applications, hacks to make older applications work, and conflicts between the two personalities of Windows.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has...

90 comments
gregnewm7
gregnewm7

i have been using Windows 8 consumers preview every day since it came out. and there are some minor improvements it needs but number 1= it needs to automatically go to the desktop screen first after sign in if the Windows 8 OS senses you are not connected to a touch screen monitor.. The reason for this is most businesses and most people donot have touch screen monitors. In this scenario the Metro Start screen would still be there by clicking a shortcut icon to use it. The Metro tiles system in essence is a screen where the computer user sets it up to have the apps or computer operations they use most or like most right there for them to quickly access and use. This is great Idea plus the fact Metro tiles update their information. This would stop the ongoing debate about the Windows 8 Metro start screen.because some People like it others donot. Now if the Windows 8 OS senses the computer is connected to a touch screen mionitor it opens up to the Metro Tile start screen after sign in because it's the best interface for Metro smart tiles Windows 8 is best used with a touch screen but in reality since not many People or businesses do not have touch screen monitors most People wont get the best experience using Window 8 OS it until they get a touch screen monitor. of course on a tablet the winodows 8 OS should go to the Metro start screen after signing in and a person can touch the desktop Metro tile to get to the desktop to use programs that are best done on the desktop like the Microsoft office suite.

xercron
xercron

I get so tired of having to switch on all the key features I need and use every day when administering other people's systems: turning on file extensions so I can see what is happening and seeing those all important system files required when trying to understand when something does not work. Windows has needed a single switch to turn all these features on and off and I see Windows 8 as making a sop towards this. The average user can stay with Metro and I can go in and leverage the full power of Windows from the usual desktop. If Microsoft embrace such an approach and we get a true split personality then I feel we have made real progress in the PC being all things to all users.

wbobrowski
wbobrowski

Actually makes perfect sense on a Tablet PC (we are just now incorporating Lenovo X220 Tablet PC units....installed with XP for Tablet PC!). Now that I'm learning my way around the consumer preview version (not perfect and there are definitely workflow issues with the dual interface approach) on my home system, I don't want to go back to Win7. Metro is 'content consumption'. Desktop is 'content creation'. Change is coming...bring it on!

gbaron
gbaron

Time does not stand still. People said cars would never be better than horses. Wired Phone companies do not like cell phones. people didnt like windows 98 when it first came out, same with windows 2000, xp, vista. I hear from clients that dont like windows 7 because its not like xp. TIMES CHANGE. It sounds as if the people that are complaining are just saying that they are stuck in the past and dont want to learn the new system to see if it actually is better. You would be better off to embrace change because there is nothing you can do to stop change from happening.

da philster
da philster

I guess that in theory it was a good idea to create a unified OS that would fit the needs of a Smartphone, a Tablet, and a Desktop. Although the Metro interface might look and work just fine on a Smartphone or a Tablet, to translate the "look and feel" on a 27 inch Desktop screen will make the kiddie blocks icons look completely out of place. Still time for Microsoft to re-think the interface for Desktop use.

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

It's tough having to fill a column but gas does it every time.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Microsoft and Apple are both headed towards making touch the standard user interface, one way or another. Windows has the advantage right now because there is a plethora of touch-capable desktop computers as well as touch-capable laptops and convertibles--though few true tablets running any form of Windows at the moment. W8oA looks like an iOS-level version capable of integrating with a full Windows x86 system similar to the way iOS integrates with OS X but may actually become a smoother package as long as Microsoft doesn't make any mistakes. Microsoft needs to think as much on the user experience as they do the compatibility across platforms. If they make it too tech-centric, it could slow the merger of mobile/cloud/desktop for Windows. But the biggest hurdle Windows touch has to face is its developers. With over 50% of the Public Beta testers giving low marks to the Metro interface, developers are going to question the need to make their apps more touch friendly and take their time to move in that direction. Considering Apple's already large touch-centric developer base, when Apple finally does release a touch-version of OS X and Mac (probably simultaneously) they'll have an already-established software library for it.

JJFitz
JJFitz

I have been using Win 8 Consumer Preview on my 2.5 year old Fujitsu Lifebook convertible tablet and I am really enjoying the flexibility in my set up. When I am at my desk, I put my tablet in the docking station and use a dual monitor set up. I keep Metro on the tablet screen and use finger input. (Although, stylus, mouse, and trackpad input work well too). I put the desktop on my larger monitor. In this set up, Metro acts as an assistant. Emails, calendar events, messaging, weather, music, video, and the super clean browser stay on the Metro screen. The large monitor is dedicated to business applications - MS Office, Visio, Project Manager, Acrobat, Document Management, ERP, etc.. If I feel that I need two desktop screens, it is easy to close Metro and extend the desktop screen to the tablet as well. When I am using the tablet without the second monitor as a laptop or a tablet (keyboard folded back), it is easy to go back and forth from Metro and the desktop. I find that I am using finger input over the stylus way more than I did with Windows 7 on the tablet. In fact, a few times, I have forgotten that the second monitor is not a touch screen and tried to start something by touching it. :) In this configuration, I think Metro makes sense. Use Metro for the simpler stuff and desktop for the more complex. Eventhough my tablet is 2.5 years old, it is very responsive. I can only imagine that it would be even better with an SSD hard drive for faster boot. It has not all been a bed of roses. Sometimes the pointer disappears when using the trackpad but I can get it back when I touch the screen with the stylus. I suspect that my trackpad driver is the problem. and what should I expect from an old tablet? Overall, I see this configuration as the ideal candidate for Win 8 as it delivers on the best of both worlds.

dicostanzot
dicostanzot

Getting tired of all the windows bashing, Anti windows people sound like someone who voted for a president who did not get in. Always complaining about what the leader is doing. This review is right on with respect to where windows came from and how it gradually gets accepted. I also agree with the metro working best with touch. Looking forward to the next gen of windows. That is ofcourse unless someone out there has like 1 trillion dollars to replace the largest operating system on the planet.

rduncan
rduncan

well in fact, if we want to use the tablet as anything more than a consumer product then yes it needs to embrace desktop computing a la docking station. Microsoft are launching a hybrid operating system which is more than you can say about apple. In the corporate/government/education sectors this will crush the competition(?) not only because it is a hybrid system but because it will slot into the Microsoft ecosystem. a windows 8 virtual desktop could conceivably be pushed down to tablets, laptops, smart phones and desktops and the interface configured accordingly via group policy. making the Windows 8 tablet OS appealing to consumers is only phase One.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

What we don't know and honestly I don't believe the capability is there as yet is whether or not the OS can detect a touch-screen display. Unlike the older IR and pressure-sensitive systems which required specific drivers to even be accessible, Windows has been touch-capable for ten years now and even Win7 is remarkably sensitive to capacitive touch on existing systems without requiring any form of activation. In essence, touch mode is turned on by default whether a touch device is active or not. As such, your #1 suggestion may simply not be possible. I have the theory that Microsoft is making a strong push to make touch the default UI with both enterprise and consumer customers. They've been trying for ten years by simply making touch available, but even with OEM support that touch has not become a standard and would not even be as prevalent now were it not for Apple's iPhones and iPads. Rather than simply encouraging a shift, Microsoft is now trying to drive that shift. I've already discussed the reasoning behind the delays through lack of developer support but I believe lack of IT support is just as valid; the only places where touch seems to have any enterprise support is where certain industries specifically commissioned tablet apps. The iPad has proven that tablets can be and are quite useful in the enterprise but that without the right software they become little more than a digital picture frame. In other words, I can't blame Microsoft for the previous failure of tablet devices but rather IT and developers resisting change.

JJFitz
JJFitz

One can influence the change rather than watch it go by and then complain about it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You would embrace all change, regardless of whether or not it is an improvement? Vista wasn't embraced, and the superior W7 was the result.

JJFitz
JJFitz

I agree that the tiles might look strange on a 27 inch monitor. They do not scale larger.There will just be more of them on the screen. I would like to be able to change their background colors, change the tile color theme, change the icons to something better than Win XP style icons, have more tile size options (very small, small, mediulm, large, very large). With these options, they won't have to look like "kiddie blocks".

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"With over 50% of the Public Beta testers giving low marks to the Metro interface, ..." Not that I'm not pleased to hear it, but what's the source of this number? I see the problem for developers of touch apps for W8 (and for the touch-focused OS itself) to be the massive number of existing non-touch systems. W7 upgraders could usually lay it right over slandered Vista without having to upgrade hardware too much. W8 will run on most W7 iron, but I don't see the bang for the buck on a non-touch system, either personal or workplace. If no one is upgrading those 'traditional' systems for touch capability, will the sale of tablets and phones be enough to sustain app development? There's more competition in the portable market than desktops and laptops.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Though I want full ability to control Metro then, and add my own files and commands.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I like the perspective and I didn't realize that the metro interface and the desktop interface could be up on different screens at the same time. I could see this being a big plus in the business world. Having a smaller touch screen close to the keyboard for quick app launches and notification updates while working in the back ground on larger non-touch screen using the desktop. Very cool! Now if I only had a touch screen to try this with. Bill

danbi
danbi

Of course, without their own hardware production Microsoft hardly could make any advance in the tablet business. But they could support already successful tablets, such as iOS and Android, but also webOS, QNX etc based. After all, Microsoft prides themselves to be good at writing software... But, it seems Microsoft is focused to save it's Windows "OS" and instead of publishing their software for as many platforms as there are -- and in the process learning a lot, they try to make their Windows "just like others". This catch game might have worked years ago, with IBM behind their back, but today... doubt it.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I just assumed it was a USB cable to the monitor, is this true? Or is it transmitted using the DVI connector?

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Here it is: http://www.pcworld.com/article/251490/windows_8_survey_half_who_have_tried_the_os_wouldnt_recommend_it.html#tk.nl_bex_t_topstories What I have noticed is that a large proportion of all-in-one and laptop PCs now offer at least some level of touch sensitivity to their screens. With the AIOs, that proportion is nearly 100% as every Windows AIO I see at Best Buy and other electronics stores are touch sensitive. As people replace their desktops with more compact models (admittedly mostly consumers) adoption of this technology will only grow. One of my own clients recently purchased a Toshiba AIO and loves just touching the icon of the app she wants on her screen in Win7. This makes it much easier for her to find and open the app she wants without having to 'find' her pointer first. Improving on and adding to this touch capability would be a boon to almost anyone once they get used to it. That said, I might agree that I don't like the LOOK of the Metro interface, but I have no qualms about the functionality of it.

grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051

for buying new computers, touch is going to be standard by early 2013. Then kinect like capabilities will be standard by 2014, if not sooner. We are at a similar stage of the first mice for computers. Some DOS programs worked with the mouse, some didn't. Scrollbars were not always consistent, and left and right clicking didn't always work as expected. So currently we're at the point of figuring out how to make touch more usable and how to use standard gestures. Really, the hardware will now be more readily available.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

It is possible to customize and add tiles to the metro interface. It is even possible to make the larger rectangular tiles the smaller square ones. I personally still think the smaller square ones are too large for most applications, but I don't know if it is possible to make them smaller than the squares. Bill

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I could see this being a big plus in the business world. Having a smaller touch screen close to the keyboard for quick app launches and notification updates while working in the back ground on larger non-touch screen using the desktop." That's an expensive replacement for a mouse and a second monitor. I can't see businesses paying for it for just those purposes, especially for that majority of workers who don't need a tablet's mobility.

danbi
danbi

This technology already exists in the "Apple universe". Long ago, they had this DVI+other cables. But more recently, for anything made in 2011 (except mobile devices), each and every Mac has a Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt is very interesting in several aspects. It has two 10Gbit full-duplex links. You could also use part of that bandwidth for DisplayPort connectivity. In fact, those 10Gbit are x4 PCI-Express busses. You can run up to 6 meters copper cables, daisy chain them etc. You may run much longer distances with fiber optics. There are no drivers for Thunderbolt. It is transparent. It's like your CPU's PCI-Express lanes extend out of your computer case to some other peripheral. Apple sells the Thunderbolt Display, that does just that. It has two Thunderbolt ports. You can connect one to your computer (any 2011 Mac) and the other to the next Thunderbolt device, be it another display, or storage or whatever. One especially impressive example is the Macbook Air. Because it is very thin and light, it only has two USB ports, SD reader, sound output and one Thunderbolt port. When you connect the Macbook Air to the Thunderbolt Display, you get an 27" display of course, but the display has built-in (connected to MBA's PCI-Express busses): 3-port USB, additional camera, additional audio with speakers and Gigabit Ethernet. So, it is easy to imagine, that this is the future of highly portable devices: one Thunderbolt (or alike) port to connect to a 'docking station' and whatever peripherals you can imagine, that typically sit inside your computer, off that.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

My nearly 5-year-old iMac has been dual monitor almost from the time I purchased it--the second display an extension of the desktop. Now, I do know that some PC video cards have this same capability, but I also know that many machines have to have a second card installed. But this is really off the main topic. Now, personally I know Windows itself already has the capability as until recently I ran Win7 on this same iMac in a dual monitor config. I will grant that neither display is touch-capable though. It seems to me that when Apple does make the iMac (or any of its Mac displays) touch compatible, the external display connector will include touch data; it only makes sense. When you consider that Apple and Intel worked together to create the Thunderbolt connection with displays as well as all other peripherals in mind, again it only makes sense that touch data will pass through that connection.

Slayer_
Slayer_

The universal plug wouldn't be on the monitor to connect devices, it would connect the monitor to the tower. The video card would then forward the data however it needs to. This way you could have USB, SD slots, etc. Imagine if all you had to do for duel monitor support was plug your second monitor into a plug on your primary monitor, your video card would understand there is a second output device and send the signal for both. Or the primary monitor can do that USB monitor voodoo and activate the second display. Attach a third, forth, fifth display the same way.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

As tablets grow in processing power, a single all-encompassing connector only makes sense because you're not likely to want to carry all of those external devices when you're mobile. That's why I disagree with all those who say you [i]have[/i] to have USB and SD card sockets on the device itself.

JJFitz
JJFitz

Yeah, I like having a little USB hub on the monitor. It makes it easy to transfer files from a flash drive or smartphone, connect a webcam, hang a USB light and charge devices. I use a keyboard with backlit keys instead of an under monitor light though.

Slayer_
Slayer_

PS/2 seems to be making a come back.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I was surprised to find the most recent HP desktops we ordered came with PS2 mice and keyboards. Frankly, this pleased me since it left two more USB ports available.

Slayer_
Slayer_

One of those plugs that fit both types, but the additional connections would be for USB and other devices such as built in web cams and USB ports, touch screens, reading lights, etc. How about a light directly under your monitor that lights up your keyboard...

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Yet another USB port I'll have to be aware of for my clients if/when they upgrade.

JJFitz
JJFitz

The Dell ST2220T touchscreen uses a USB cable to enable touch input. I'm going to assume that all of the modern touch monitors aside from the all-in-one PC's do. In manufacturing, the old process control (HMI - human machine interface) monitors used an RS232 port. - but I date myself

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

But that's because the touch interface is built into the tablet and the PCs I've seen with it are AIO units similar to the iMac and, of course, laptops. I would expect, however, that it's using the DVI connector. What I do know is that it's fast and on Win7 quite accurate. My client who has one is now in the habit of touching the icon for the file or app she wants to open rather than dragging her mouse up to it for clicking. Hers is a Toshiba All-in-One that she purchased for about $800. The only problems she's been experiencing have been related to Yahoo and nothing hardware or OS related.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Being able to see system files vs being able to see your files at all... I'm wondering if MS expects people to stop file managing all together just like a phone and instead go back to the old model where you must launch the app, and the app must open the file. Dropping the convenience file extensions gave us.

JJFitz
JJFitz

It just needs some tweaking like all GUI's. For example, all Windows OS' sincw Win 95 hide system files and don't show file extensions. I immediately change that. But in a coporate deployment, you do that once, make an image and deploy the image so you don't have to do it again.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I didn't realize MS wanted to go back to the days when a computer required a tech to set it up first. Maybe stores can start charging PDI fees.

JJFitz
JJFitz

True, you don't see good ol' Explorer out of the box but you can pin a shortcut to Start and it appears as a Metro tile. :)

Slayer_
Slayer_

Are they actually using it as it was meant to be used? I wonder how many have turned on desktop icons, even though these are meant to be off. At its default configuration, its not even possible to access the file system. You either have to use the run command, use Windows + E, or search for the files every time. What about duel screens, if you have a second monitor, that stupid sliding hot spot is now very hard to hit. I know its a consumer preview, but the system doesn't actually function as an OS anymore, at least not how we have come to expect them. Are we expected to have to install a file management app? I actually liked a developer preview better, with metro spawning from the start button, that I could get used to.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't question the value of W8 on tablets. Indeed, I see it as extremely well designed for those devices. It's on desktops and traditional laptops that I see it as ill-suited. As to your question, I'd replace the monitor first. That's probably where your magenta-line problem is. As to the computer, I'd get a W7 system now while they're still available and not bother with a touch-capable screen, but that's just me.

JJFitz
JJFitz

We still have many ancient 15" monitors. We have at least one die per week. It's easy to switch monitors and insert a touch screen monitor in the IT department so we can test Win 8. I disagree with the statement that there are a few touch-capable applications. Well, that depends on your defintion of touch-capable. I have been using tablets since 2004. All of the Office applications use e-ink. One Note is the best application for touch. All of the icons on the desktop can be opened with touch, All of the hyperlinks in IE will open with touch. Basically, if you can click it, you can touch it to activate it. Right clicks could be activated from a key on the keyboard. My keyboard has a right click menu button. I don't think we are as far away from touch as you may think. My stylus has a right click button on it and an "eraser" on the other end. It's working in Win 8. I don't think it will be too long before we see monitors with this type of stylus capability. And the good news for me is, I am due for a home computer and monitor upgrade. It's 6 years old and running on Win XP. Things are starting to fail on it. There's an occasional thin magenta line on my screen that is quite annoying. My only question is should I wait a little while longer or buy a Win 8 "capable" replacement desktop and touch screen now?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

why replace it? Especially since companies are still upgrading to W7 and using few touch-capable apps.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"We are at a similar stage of the first mice for computers. Some DOS programs worked with the mouse, some didn't. Scrollbars were not always consistent, and left and right clicking didn't always work as expected." Then I believe I'll wait until things stabilize.

JJFitz
JJFitz

They are already out there and they are not that expensive. Microsoft knows this and should allow Win 8 to support it.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I hope you can customize what picture it shows.

JJFitz
JJFitz

The first thing I did was make shutdown and lock computer tiles. No more keyboard or two clicking for me.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

As a supplement. Maybe even a phone doc that ties in with your desktop or replaces your desktop similar to the motorola photon. Could be a small non-touch screen that simply displays the live tiles so that you can easily monitor notifications. I wouldn't think it would have to be expensive. Bill

JJFitz
JJFitz

I can get a new Fujistu Lifebook for $700 to $1800. They are always running sales. I agree that this may be out of reach for most office workers and less useful for the non-mobile types but for $225 you could get a Planar 22" multi-touch monitor with built in speakers as a second monitor and do the same thing with a desktop. There is no arguing that a second monitor is better than a single one. Touch just makes it that much better with Metro. Update: The Dell MultiTouch ST2220t looks like a better monitor. I like how you can adjust the angle so that it can lay even flat on the desk.