by July 30, 2012 0 comments

I write this in Word 2013 on a Windows 8 tablet running Office 2013 -Microsoft’s new touch-enabled suite that previewed in July.

Windows 8 works very well on a tablet, with its very elegant Metro interface. I’m running the Release Preview on a Samsung Slate 7, which Microsoft thoughtfully loaned to me at its TechEd conference in Amsterdam last month. A far better experience than Windows 8 on laptops (I’ve run it on several, including a MacBook).

As with the iPad, the on-screen touch keyboard is nice, though for real writing I use a wireless keyboard.

Windows 8’s big deal is the Metro interface, with its large, dynamic tiles for icons: a real pain on a PC, but a great tablet interface. And a nifty phone interface: Windows Phone 7 is where I’ve used Metro before. Metro will provide the common look and feel in Windows 8, across phone, tablet and PC -sitting on top of a kernel and other elements common to all three, and allowing Metro apps to run across all three with minor modifications.

In fact, unmodified Metro-ready apps will run across (Intel-based) tablets and PCs, just as iOS apps do on the iPhone and iPad. “Apple drew the line between the tablet and the PC,” Microsoft says, “while we draw the line between the tablet and the phone.”

Metro apps have a clean look with no ‘chrome’ -things like the borders, toolbars, etc -until you need it. A swipe from top or bottom edge in a browser brings you the addressbar, for instance.

The only “command” you need to learn with Windows 8 on a touch tablet is: swipe from the edges. Swipe from the left edge, and you switch between open apps. A swipe from the top or bottom brings up commands for the current app. A swipe from the right edge brings up the main control bar, with Search, Start (which fires up the Metro desktop), Settings, etc. Swiping from the edge is easy, intuitive and elegant.

Office 365 uses touch well, too. All actions -swiping, pinch to zoom, etc–work as you’d expect with an iPad app. I found it cluttered, though, and full of “chrome” -button bars and menus, leaving only half the screen for your document. Usage is intuitive. I did get six full-freeze-ups while writing this piece, needing restarts of Word, but I’d give it some slack for the beta nature of the current products. Still, “Word is not responding” and “Preparing to restart your computer to install some updates” aren’t messages I have ever seen on a tablet before!

What about Windows 8 or regular laptops? It works, it’s quick, it’s solid, but the Metro interface is a pain. I can never find the app I need without serious hunting, so I go ahead and do a search every time.

What Microsoft needs is a world with touch-ready PCs. Intel speaks of over

40 touch-enabled Windows 8 ultrabooks up ahead (including a dozen laptop-tablet convertibles). But I don’t see that making a big enough impact in less than three years.

So, come on, Microsoft -get the corner Start button back, with its apps list. If you don’t, you’re looking at another Vista on your hands, with businesses refusing to upgrade, and OEMs continuing to ship systems with Windows 7 till 2016.

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