The Trouble With Touch Screens and Old-Fashioned Windows 8

By  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I’m optimistic about Microsoft’s tablet plans for Windows 8. The idea of combining a touch-optimized layer for tablet apps with the familiar mouse-and-keyboard interface for legacy software seems to me like the best of both worlds, at least in theory.

But Microsoft might run into trouble by trying to shoehorn touch screen support into the traditional version of Windows, which will remain accessible on tablets even though it’s not designed primarily for them. Exhibit A: Windows 8’s redesigned Windows Explorer, which will bring the ribbon interface of products like Office and Paint into the operating system’s file manager.

The ribbon is a controversial feature, because although it bubbles lots of options to the surface, it also takes up a lot of space and looks daunting at a glance. Still, Microsoft is using the ribbon, in part, because it’s good for tablets. “As it so happens, while not primarily a touch interface, the ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus,” Microsoft’s Alex Simons wrote on the Building Windows 8 blog.

Thing is, pull-down menus and context menus are part of what makes Windows an effective tool for productivity. By hiding the operating system’s more obscure options behind these layers, the OS gets out of the way, allowing the user to concentrate on the task at hand.

I’m worried that Microsoft will cripple the mouse-and-keyboard version of Windows 8 by trying to make it work on tablets. In my mind, Microsoft should be providing this side of Windows to tablet users “as is,” with little effort spent on making them comfortable. Or better yet, find a way to make those pull-downs and pop-up menus easier to manipulate with fingers. Don’t cram in alternatives that tablet users probably won’t want to touch anyway. Otherwise, Windows 8 risks becoming the worst of both worlds.


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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Woolly Mittens Says:

    How is having a strip of teeny tiny icons good for a touch screen interface? I'd need a moist cotton-tip to work it.

  2. MJPollard Says:

    On the flip side, how is having a honkin’ huge ribbon taking up valuable vertical screen real estate on widescreen displays that are actually robbing us of much-needed vertical space a good thing? (Yet another reason for me to loathe and despise the stupid ribbon.)

  3. Collins Says:


    There's CTRL-F1 and double-click (or double-tap) on the ribbon bar. All familiar actions are still accessible through hotkeys.

  4. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Apple shoehorned touch support into its latest desk top OS…

  5. Info Dave Says:

    I'm not sure Apple would appreciate you using the term, 'shoehorned'.

  6. The_Heraclitus Says:

    LOL! Yes, I'm sure that the employees working in the distortion field wouldn't.

  7. Dean Says:

    We are seeing the death throws of Microsoft.

  8. HenningK Says:

    Yes. Of course. Death throes. Of the company that powers more than 90% of EVERY SINGLE COMPUTER ON EARTH? That just had a record quarter with soaring profits?

    Get a reality check. You need one.

  9. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    Actually, you need the reality check. That number is nowhere near correct. There are more ARM systems than Intel and Microsoft is almost 100% Intel. Also, the Mac is 90% of high-end Intel, Windows is just low-end PC's, which are currently being hurt really badly by iPad.

    In the last quarter, Apple became the #1 PC vendor by volume with 4 million more systems shipped than HP, HP fell to #2 and announced they are killing their mobiles and exiting the PC business altogether, and Acer fell to #3 and had their first ever loss, almost $300 million.

    The reason there is so much focus on Windows 8 and especially on its tablet features is that the low-end PC market is moving quickly from notebook/netbook to iPad. PC makers desperately need a Windows iPad like 12 months ago.

    Everybody knows Microsoft has a couple of cash cows, where they milk their installed base. That has nothing to do with demand for Windows PC's going into the toilet over the past 6 months. Microsoft's monies are not expanding at anything like the pace that computing is expanding. So yes, they are profitable, but at some point over the next 18 months or so, OS X will start outselling Windows. It's almost inevitable given the upgrade cycles. All those people can run Bing and that's about it. Microsoft will not be milking them next upgrade cycle.

  10. The_Heraclitus Says:

    ACTUALLY Ham, based on OS's accessing the internet (clients) he is correct.

  11. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Wow! Pretty strong stuff you're smoking there…

  12. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > best of both worlds

    … is an iPad and a MacBook Air for $1498, which is less than the typical Windows ultralight notebook.

    The iPad replaces a printer in a PC setup, not a PC. You can literally unplug your printer from the USB port and attach iPad in the same place. After one sync, all your photos have been "printed" to iPad. Putting books or PDF on there is another kind of printing, so is Maps. Where you used to have a printer and a stack of printed documents, now you have an iPad with all those same documents in it.

  13. The_Heraclitus Says:

    What? When I print something it is because I need a paper copy. So, NO an iPad in no way replaces a printer.

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  16. Monty Fuller Says:

    I am very much interested in whether the Windows 8 tablets will come with support for printing. I often make trips to clients’ offices to show them samples of their signage and require a way to access large format printing on their printers. If these tablets can hook up to their printers, I would definitely get one instead of lugging around my laptop!