Disclaimer: Gartner analysts use their blogs to share their personal views and opinions on subjects close to their hearts.
Welcome back for Part 2 of my series on Windows 8. Yesterday I looked at the business decision Microsoft made when they decided to design Windows 8 for both a tablet and a desktop. Today I’m dropping the business reasons and just looking at Windows 8 itself. This time I’m approaching Windows 8 as if I were only a tablet user. As I said in my post yesterday, Microsoft let me borrow a Samsung Series 7 Slate device with Windows 8 loaded on it, I’ve been using this device to get an idea of how they envision the future of their OS and honestly, with a tablet in my hands, I can see the vision better.
I think Microsoft put a lot of thought into this OS, specifically I see a lot of design considerations around the way we hold a tablet. The use of thumbs, both left and right, to navigate the OS makes a ton of sense when you hold a tablet in your hand. It’s quick, it’s easy to learn, and it’s not too difficult to navigate. Even Metro seems to make a lot more sense to me when I hold this tablet in my hand. Although there are very few Metro apps right now, those that do exist are pretty slick. So, from a tablet stand point, I can look at this OS and say, “I like this thing”.
I was also impressed with the responsiveness of the tablet. When I drag things around there is no delay in the window movement or the icon movement (something I would notice on many Android based tablets). The bootup time was extremely responsive, to test this I put my slate side by side to my iPad and booted both devices as the same time. I found that the slate boots faster than my iPad, that’s very impressive, considering it’s really an x86 based laptop that can run all my legacy Windows apps. I also have a much richer experience in Windows 8 than my iOS device, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise because it’s a full desktop OS and can support everything a desktop can (full USB support!).
Tablet’s and Productivity
As a person who covers enterprise desktop solutions (eg. Desktop virtualization) I see a lot of tablet use, in fact enabling tablets is one of the reasons some companies choose to do re-architect their desktop environment. However, I’m of the belief that tablets are only useful when the application has been designed for touch, and most apps aren’t. Another issue I have is that the OS isn’t designed for touch so it’s a bit of a pain to navigate the desktop OS to launch an app. To get around the OS issue I tend to recommend server based computing (Remote Desktop Services) doing direct application delivery (XenApp, RemoteApp) for tablets, but that only solves the OS problem, not the application problem.
The great news is that most of the reasons I tend to be against tablets are solved thanks to Windows 8. For starters, the OS is now designed for touch so navigating the OS is easier on a tablet, and as more hardware moves to touch (and it will thanks to Windows 8) that means more apps will be developed for it. Also, Windows 8 doesn’t come with the restrictions we commonly see with other vendor’s tablets: only apps from the app store are allowed to be installed (Android/iOS), or certian USB devices being blocked. For some vendors it’s their way or the highway. Windows 8 has all the flexibility we like about Windows without the vendor restrictions.
Mouse and Keyboard
Now I know I’ll take heat for this but although I own two iPads, I’m not a huge tablet fanatic. I think they are best used for consumption (reading an email, webpage, document, or book) as they are limited in their ability to create content. Most content creation on a tablet must be small such as responding to a quick email, taking or modifying a photo/video, and maybe recording a song. However most of these can be done quicker and more efficiently with a mouse and keyboard (however taking a photo is definitely easier on my tablet). Tablets are great when a mouse and keyboard are not available (or inconvenient) such as when I’m traveling, on a plane, or in bed, but I’m not sitting here writing this blog on a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard, I’m using dual 24’ screens and a big ergonomically correct keyboard. I can type pretty fast and even those emails that keep popping up are a couple key strokes from being read (alt-tab), responded to and sent (control-enter) so they don’t affect my productivity that much as my hands never leave the keyboard.
I’m an end user computing guy, so what I see are desktops and applications built for a non-touch world sent to a touch device. These applications often need a mouse to be productive and some tablets specifically block mouse input. (I’ve actual been interested in getting an Android based ASUS Transformer Prime tablet because it can have a USB port with a mouse.) Even something as simple as typing can be a major productivity drain when I see something I want to change and all I want to do is get my curser between an ‘i’ and an ‘e’ because I forgot which follows a ‘c’. I can do this in a mouse ten times faster than someone with a tablet.
So although I can’t refute that the market is moving towards tablets, I do question why enterprises want to enable their use as I believe they reduce productivity (which is especially evident in the end user computing world – SBC/SHVD/VDI). But that’s why I think Windows 8 is on to something. I don’t think it’s always unproductive to have a tablet, if I thought it was a waste all the time I wouldn’t own one. My main issue is that I see more people using tablets in areas where a mouse/keyboard and maybe a monitor or two would be better suited. That’s the reason I like this slate device so much, it’s really just a laptop in a different form factor but since its running Windows 8 if I wanted to use it like my iOS device I can thanks to Metro. If I want to use it for high productivity I can, thanks to the fact that it runs all my native Windows apps and can be docked so I have a real mouse, keyboard, and monitor. I see Windows 8 as a great compromise with the end-user consumer. It says, you can use one device and always maintain the highest level of productivity. I think enterprises can get behind that.
Tomorrow I switch gears and look at Windows from a desktop perspective (this is where this conversation gets interesting).
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