Windows is a stranger when it comes to tablets. In the
new version 8, Microsoft wants to compete with Apple in this area. Will its
touchscreen stand up to the contest?
is fun to use on tablets-as long as one does not leave the Metro user
interface. The underlying system is faulty: the moment one reaches the desktop,
because of the nature of things, fingers do not move as swiftly as a mouse
pointer. The interface of an operating system must therefore be suitably
adapted for touch operation. Scrollable dropdown bars are just as taboo as
context menus here. What counts is the intuitive design. Buttons, menus and
images must be big enough and easily accessible on a small 10-inch display. On
the other hand this would be a colossal wastage of space on the 24-inch
monitors for PCs.
has started a radical design change for the first time in over 15 years with
the aim of not restricting its system only as the market conqueror for desktop
PCs and notebooks, but also for tablets. If everything goes as per Microsoft's
plan, this should not be a problem: using the icon interface inspired from
Windows Phone, Windows 8 should be just as easily operable via touch as the
classic mouse. If and how well the Redmonders actually managed this balancing
act was tested in detail in the latest developer preview by CHIP.
You can try
it out yourself, too, if you have your hands on a Windows 8 Developer Preview
and VirtualBox. You can read how to do it at the end of the article.
System: The Microsoft tools
The new interface and its icons are designed for the
touch operation. But how is the user experience in reality?
determine whether Microsoft has a good grip on its system, we first tested how
much have the Redmonders optimized their own
applications for finger touch. Here, the focus is on netsurfing, file
management and system optimization.
Ideal: Internet Explorer
As soon as
the system starts up, the icon for Internet Explorer is immediately noticeable
- and here Microsoft has done a bang-up job: The URL bar at the lower screen
edge appears sleek and tidy without compromising or excluding the functions.
Next to the input mask, buttons are provided to go back to the previous page,
refresh a page and to save bookmarks. Using the search function, the user can
also jump to specific words on the website. If one wants to enter a web
address, a keyboard in Chiclet design opens up which can be easily operated
using multiple fingers even on a 10-inch tablet. Even the tab management is
wonderful: To save space, tabs are visible only if one swipes
from the top of the screen downwards (see screenshot on right-hand side). If
the surfer wants to open a new tab, he/she taps on a plus sign; if he/she wants
to close one, he/she presses on an [X] - simple and it cannot get more
intuitive than this.
Intermingled: the control panel
management using the Windows Explorer is longwinded. Thanks to the Ribbon
interface, one reaches many functions faster as compared to Windows 7 - often
used functions like copy and move have separate large buttons here. But one is
so used to the context menu that he/she gets angered by the sophisticated menus
and sub-menus. The touch operation is not fun in this case.
Panel is new in which the user finds the important settings divided into twelve
categories such as "Personalize", "Users" and
"Privacy". In addition there is a button for Windows Update and one
for "More Settings". Fingers function optimally. Windows 8 does not
have dropdown menus or compartmentalized sub-menus. It instead offers a
two-section window - the menus on the left and their corresponding settings on
the right. Moreover one can easily enable or disable many of the options using
a button. However several settings relate to the Metro applications. If one
wants to change specific Windows functions or uninstall programs, one lands up in the renowned control panel. And here the facade
crumbles down since the desktop is not touch-enhanced and thus very tricky.
Applications: All on the App Developers
How properly Windows 8 can be operated using fingers
does not depend on Microsoft alone - software developers are also in demand
of focus of the new system naturally is on the applications which are arranged
from left to write on the start screen. Since access to the Windows Store is
still blocked, we could only test the Microsoft-integrated applications at this
time. These however do look promising.
Finger-affable: The Metro Applications
rummages through news readers, starts the weather application or follows the
stock prices - the apps seem classy and are perfectly designed for the touch
interface. But as a Windows user, one must get used to this, since it is not
the same as in classic programs. This starts from the mini-applications which
do not have the "Close" button. Instead one must swipe from the
righthand side edge of the screen into the image to return to the start screen
using a sidebar. This function would of course be distinctly faster on a few
tablets: The Emulator, provided by Microsoft (see on the right-hand side), is a
tablet integrated with a hardware button which reverts you to the start screen.
But irrespective of the way you choose, one view into the Task Manager reveals
that the apps are still running and merely go into a type of sleep mode
(suspended). This however is not a problem since as soon as another application
demands more of the allocated main memory, the old application is replaced.
But we did
not like the application management: If one wants to toggle from one
application to another, one has to swipe from the left edge of the screen into
display using the finger. The function is similar to changing tabs with the
difference that one does not know the sequence in which the applications are
displayed. Here we would have liked a concept similar to webOS which shows all
open applications in a preview.
Barely operable: The desktop tools
uses icons for the classic programs as well - very annoying since these can
hardly be sorted in the test version. Nevertheless: After heavy criticism from
users, Microsoft has promised improvements and the users will be able to group
the icons freely.
If the user
clicks on the program icons, he/she lands up on the desktop and the system
starts the application. From the first look itself it is clear that one does
not want to operate the tools via touch since the tiny menus and buttons are
designed for mouse operation. For example, we tried in VLC media player to adjust
the slider of the audio equalizer - an almost impossible task. It will be
interesting to see whether and which developers can manage the balance between
touch operation and classic mouse usage.