Microsoft

Should there be separate tablet and desktop editions of Windows 8?

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz examines arguments for and against separate editions of Windows 8 for tablets and desktops. We'd like your input.

Some friends were discussing Microsoft Windows 8 last week when I stopped by to listen to the conversation. As we nodded our greetings, my buddies kept talking about the pros and cons of the new Windows 8 interface that they had seen demoed on two videos: One from the D9 conference, which featured Windows President Steven Sinofsky and Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg and the other from the 2011 Computex conference in Taipei, Taiwan, which featured Michael Angiulo, Corporate Vice President, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem.

One of my friends was extolling the virtues of the new Windows 8 touch interface and saying that this will finally allow Windows users to walk around with tablet PCs that will rival Apple's iPad. The other fellow was griping about having to deal with the touch interface on a desktop PC. He was saying that that there should be two versions of Windows 8 - one with the touch based interface for tablets and another version for traditional mouse and keyboard laptops and desktops. He went on to say that he didn't believe that Microsoft was going to be successful trying to be all things to all people i.e. one operating system for the whole spectrum of computer types - tablets, notebooks, and desktops. Of course, the debate went on for a while before I interjected with my thoughts on the topic.

Essentially, I said that having the touch-based user interface in Windows 8 is very similar to having the Windows Media Center user interface in Windows Vista/7. It is basically an alternate GUI that rides on top of the standard Windows user interface and provides extra functionality. If you don't want to use it, you don't have to.

If you have a touch screen device, you can use Windows 8's touch-based interface. If you have a desktop with a keyboard and a mouse, you can use just switch over to the standard Windows interface.

While both generally agreed that with Windows 8, Microsoft was making a terrific advance toward a touch screen, tablet-based PC paradigm, the one fellow was adamant in his stance that Microsoft should develop separate versions of Windows 8. No matter what I said about having one version of the OS for both platforms and the ability switch to whichever user interface that you want, he stood his ground.

Then, he suggested that I take my thoughts about one version of Windows 8 for all platforms to TechRepublic readers and see what they have to say on the topic. In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll do just that.

The so-called separate editions of Windows XP

The first part of my argument against two editions of Windows started out with the sentence:

  • Microsoft has been there and done that and it didn't work then and it won't work now.

As you may remember, soon after Windows XP hit the streets, Microsoft followed up with separate versions of the operating system for the pertinent platforms of the time - Windows XP Media Center Edition and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

Windows XP Media Center Edition was never available as a stand-alone product that you could purchase in a retail setting. It was only sold on computers that were marketed as Media Center PCs or through OEM channels. The same was true for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition - it mainly came preinstalled on notebook/laptop computers called tablet PCs.

The first time that I got to use a Windows XP Media Center PC, I was impressed with the user interface and the ability to use a TV-like remote to navigate. However, once you shut down the Media Center interface you encountered a standard Windows Desktop. The first time that I got my hands on a Tablet PC running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, I was disappointed when the standard Windows XP user interface appeared and I discovered that the tablet features were more of a side show than the main event.

In both cases, at the end of the day these special editions of Windows XP were just standard Windows XP with extra features.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition essentially went by the wayside when its features were integrated in Service Pack 2 for Windows XP and made available as a free upgrade. While Windows XP Media Center Edition never broke free of the separate designation in the Windows XP timeframe, it really lost steam after the Update Rollup 2 for Windows XP Media Center Edition, which came out in October 2005.

So within a relatively short time frame, the separate platform-oriented versions of Windows XP faded out of the limelight. Of course, there were other factors at work in their demise, but they were essentially gone and Microsoft seemed to be backing away from having separate platform-oriented editions of Windows.

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The all-in-one aspect of Windows Vista/Windows 7

The second part of my argument against having two editions of Windows 8 started out with the sentence:

  • Microsoft has already been successful with the all-in-one operating system approach.

When Windows Vista came out, and subsequently Windows 7, there were multiple editions, but they weren't marketed as platform-oriented versions. The main retail editions - Home Premium and Ultimate - are essentially all-in-one operating systems in that they include both the Media Center features and Tablet PC/touch screen features, as well as the standard desktop.

If you want to take advantage of the Media Center features, you just select the Media Center icon and the desktop disappears and is replaced by the Windows Media Center interface, as shown in Figure A. You can then view movies and pictures, watch TV or listen to music. Shut down the Windows Media Center interface and you are right back at the standard Windows desktop interface.

Figure A

The Windows Media Center interface is built into the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista/Windows 7.
If you want to to take advantage of the tablet PC features, you just select the Tablet PC Input Panel, Shown in Figure B, and use the Writing Pad or the Touch Keyboard. Shut down the Tablet PC Input Panel and you are right back at the standard Windows desktop interface.

Figure B

The Tablet PC Input Panel is built into the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista/Windows 7.

Windows 8 is designed for both

The third part of my argument against having two editions of Windows 8 started out with the sentence:

  • From the looks of the demo, it appears that Microsoft has really done a lot of work to make the new touch based user interface work equally well with a keyboard and a mouse. Furthermore, clicking a tile on the Windows 8 Start screen immediately provides access to the standard Windows desktop interface.

This touch screen and keyboard/mouse duality is really apparent in the 2011 Computex video. For example, in the video you will see that on the Start screen, you use touch to move the screen to the left or right, but if you have a keyboard attached, that same scrolling to the left or right can be accomplished via the Page Up and Page Down keys.

On the Start screen, in addition to the new touch based Apps, standard Windows applications appear as tiles rather than icons. Just select the Word tile, for example, and up pops the same Microsoft application that you are used to using. Employing Windows Snap, you can have the touch-based apps and standard applications running side-by-side. I know the Computex video is 32 minutes long, but watch at least the first 20 minutes and you'll really get a feel for Windows 8 and the touch screen and keyboard/mouse duality

What's your take?

Of course, lots of things may change between now and when Windows 8 actually launches, but at this point in time, I'd say that it looks like Microsoft is well on their way to making Windows 8 all things to all people i.e. one operating system for the whole spectrum of computer types - tablets, notebooks, and desktops. What do you think about Windows 8's new touch-based user interface and it ability to easily morph into the standard windows desktop? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read

Videos

2011 Computex:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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