Today at the D9 conference, Microsoft unveiled the latest version of its Windows operating system. Code-named Windows 8, in a surprise move Microsoft is incorporating touchscreen technology into the Windows UI. Windows 8 will be used across a wide range of computing devices - PCs, laptops, tablets and more. One OS for all of those devices. This runs counter to Apple's philosophy, which has separate OS's for its desktop / laptops (Mac OS X) and tablets / mobile phones (iOS).
In short, Apple does not believe that touchscreen interfaces are appropriate for PCs and desktop computers. PC and laptop screens are vertical and up till now, Apple has pooh-poohed the idea of making these touchscreen. So the big question is: will Microsoft's touchscreen for desktops and laptops actually work?
Windows 8 is inspired by the Windows Phone 7 UI, which has received mostly positive reviews this year. But it could be argued that this is forced innovation from Microsoft, that they're only doing this to try and one-up Apple. Regardless, due to the sheer market force of Microsoft Windows, it's going to shake up the PC and laptop (and netbook) market in a big way.
A video from Microsoft showcases the features we can expect from Windows 8.
The main features:
- "Tiles" replace icons. Every app on your computer will be represented by a tile, which has more information and functionality than a simple icon. The Windows start screen will become a "personal mosaic of tiles."
- A 'swiping' motion to move between applications.
- A "snap" feature to display two apps at once.
- A "thumbs layout" for the virtual keyboard, when needed.
Microsoft states that the new Windows 8 interface has been "designed and optimized for touch," however it "works equally well with a mouse and keyboard."
John Gruber, a Mac fanatic who runs the influential Daring Fireball blog, believes that Windows 8 is "fundamentally flawed" and is trying to do too much. In a nutshell, he thinks that the complexity of features needed on a PC is fundamentally different from the simplicity needed on a tablet device.
I think the new touchscreen user interface, as seen in the Microsoft demo video, looks compelling. I can imagine myself using touch on my laptop. Less so on my desktop PC, as it's usually further away from me - so unless I want to work on my guns, I don't think I'd want to regularly stretch out my arms.
I also believe that swapping between a keyboard and touch will become quite natural after a while, for example using a keyboard for Excel and then swiping one's way through web apps.
Overall I'm fairly excited by the idea of having a touchscreen UI on both my laptop and desktop, but particularly the laptop. What do you think, does Windows 8 look compelling to you?