Microsoft’s Windows of opportunity into booming tablet market
Microsoft has been virtually shut out of the exploding market
for touch-screen tablets
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver October 23, 2012 Issue #1200 High Tech
you marked October 25 in your calendar? That’s the date Microsoft
launches Windows 8 – The Next Generation. It’s promising to be the
biggest change for Windows ever. Or at least since Windows 95.
Many users might wonder why a new Windows is needed. Windows 7 was
released in July 2009 to generally positive reviews and is now running
on a majority of systems though many Windows users – especially in
businesses – continue to run 2002’s Windows XP.
The answer is tablets. The market for traditional Windows-using desktop
and laptop computers is stagnant, and even though Microsoft has long
included tablet support in Windows, it’s designed for stylus, not
fingers. Microsoft has been virtually shut out of the exploding market
for touch-screen tablets.
|Windows 8, though,
redesigns the user experience – what Microsoft calls
the Modern User Interface (formerly called “Metro”) features screen
elements big enough for easy finger manipulation on touch screens.
While Windows 8 is not yet – as I write this – officially released,
Microsoft has made a 90-day trial version freely downloadable. I’ve
been running it on a variety of platforms, most recently on a (very
nice) Envy Spectre XT 13” laptop loaned to me by HP.
Like other lightweight ultrabooks, the Spectre XT uses a speedy
solid-state drive for storage. That enables Windows 8 to start up in
about 20 seconds, revealing the new interface: no familiar desktop
wallpaper, task bar and start menu. Instead, the start screen displays
pages of tiles – replacing desktop icons.
The resizable tiles can be rearranged like dominos, some of them –
weather, news, stock price apps, etc. – continuously updating
Apps designed for the Modern UI run full screen with new bigger user
interface elements. If you’re running Windows 8 on a desktop, laptop or
on some tablets, you can also run more traditional Windows software –
these old-style applications also get tiles on the start screen.
Click on one of these or the “desktop” tile and you’re back in a
Windows 7-style environment: wallpaper, taskbar and the like. But no
start menu; Microsoft wants you to start using the Modern UI. (Hint –
tap the Windows key on your keyboard to pop back to the Windows 8 Start
The result is a bit schizoid. Sometimes your programs display the new
look, sometimes the old. There are two separate versions of Internet
Explorer: a traditional one and one designed for the new interface.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself in one, other times the other.
I haven’t had the opportunity to try Windows 8 on a touch-screen or
tablet system; people who have generally report liking the experience –
at least when running software designed for the new interface.
A catch: only tablets with traditional Intel-style processors will run
the full Windows 8; these will be able to run both new software and
traditional (less tablet-friendly) software, though you’ll want to have
a keyboard and mouse or touchpad handy to do that.
Other tablets will use the same sort of processors used on iPads and
Android tablets, offering less raw power but better battery life. These
will run so-called Windows RT – no, I don’t know what it stands for –
and will only be able to run software designed for the new interface.
While the new interface was designed to be fingertip friendly, some
find it awkward on non-touch hardware – like the computers on all our
desks. I don’t share that opinion. What it is is different.
A new action: point your cursor to the bottom right corner to bring up
what Microsoft calls “charms”: a set of context-dependent icons. To
shut down: bring up the charms and click on the settings icon. Not
I like the new interface, but the steep learning curve is going to
discourage adoption. My prediction – despite a reasonable $49 price,
relatively few Windows 7 users will upgrade and as the many XP systems
still in use get long in the tooth, businesses will prefer to replace
them with Windows 7. The tablet market? We’ll have to wait and see.
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