Touchscreen Test for Windows 8

5/9/2012 5:09:28 PM

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?

Windows 8 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, finger-affability ends.

It is 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.

Description: D:\!Work\!60s\!Publish\!Temp\05.05.2012 da sua\Tech_Desktop_Touchscreen_Test_For_Windows_8_files\image001.jpg

Microsoft 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?

To 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

Description: Description: The Microsoft Tools

The file 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.

The Control 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

The point 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

Whether one 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

The system 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.

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