Okay, I have a confession to make: I’m kind of starting to like Windows 8. Not Windows RT, mind you; that still just confuses me. But full-on Windows 8 is surprising me—it provides a refreshing approach to casual touch computing while supporting all of the legacy Windows apps that I rely on to get real work done (touch helps out there, as well).
Using Windows 8 has given me a good reason to pay closer attention to how I use Windows 7 (and even OS X, for that matter). Although I was one of those who disliked the idea of eliminating the Start Menu (which is the real issue, not the Start button itself), I’ve actually been forced to recognize that I actually rarely use the menu. Rather, I have my most-used apps pinned to the Start Menu, and I use the search box to open lesser-used apps.
In other words, I already use Windows 7 in a manner that’s very close to how I use Windows 8. The only real difference is that I have my most-used apps pinned to the Start Screen instead, all the way to the left so that they’re the first ones to show up, but I still use search to open my other apps. The workflow is essentially the same; it’s only the presentation that differs. One might even argue that the Start Screen is more customizable and that, e.g., groups, makes my workflow even more efficient.
OS X is similar. I have my most-used apps on the dock, but I go to the Launchpad for the rest (occasionally searching when I can’t find an app there). Isn’t the Launchpad essentially the same as the Start Screen in Windows 8, only arranged differently and, one might say, less efficiently?
At the same time, Windows 8 provides a very nice touch experience. Overall, I like it a little less than Android Jelly Bean and a whole lot more than iOS. I wouldn’t choose Windows 8 over Android based purely on the user interface, but UI wouldn’t be enough to convince me to give up the Windows 8 desktop and the ability to use full-fledged Windows applications. In short, with two major caveats, if I were forced to choose between Windows 8, Android, and iOS on my tablet, I’d choose Windows 8.
What are those two caveats? Well, first, Windows 8 is severely lacking in good touch-based apps compared to both Android and iOS. In fact, I’m reminded in this regard of my frustrating days as an early webOS adopter. Second, the Windows 8 machine I’ve been using is a Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx convertible, which has a tablet portion that attaches to a keyboard dock. So I suppose that what I’m really saying is that I would pick a Windows 8 hybrid machine over an Android tablet (with or without dock) or an iPad plus Bluetooth keyboard.
In other words, I wouldn’t choose a Windows 8 tablet, but I would choose a Windows 8 tablet that can also function as a fully productive notebook. Lucky for me, and brilliantly so, this is where Microsoft and the entire Windows 8 ecosystem seems to be heading. Microsoft’s mantra, after all, is that Windows 8 provides the best of both worlds—a casual touch experience for content consumption and the ability to run hardcore Windows productivity applications. It’s a compelling argument.
It’s a good thing I’m not forced to make a choice today, though, because I would sincerely miss all of the excellent touch-based apps that I use on my Nexus 10 (and to a lesser extent on my iPad 3). While the Lenovo will be going back to the store because of some issues with the screen and the keyboard, I do like the combination of a Windows 8 hybrid to go along with an Android tablet and smartphone. It may seem like overkill, but until Windows 8 comes out with the same selection of quality touch-based apps, my Nexus 10 remains a requirement.
I’ll add here, as an aside, that touch is an excellent addition, even on a notebook. Simply the ability to scroll a Web page by running a finger along the side of the screen is preferable to using a mouse and/or keyboard. So, Apple, touch does work on a notebook; you might want to give it some thought one of these days.
I think my ultimate device, in fact, might be something like the upcoming Samsung Ativ Q slider, which can work as a notebook, a tablet, and a few things in-between. It runs both Windows 8 and a virtualized version of Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2, which provides the best of both worlds—the productivity of Windows 8 and the plethora of excellent touch-based apps of Android. Add in an ultra-high resolution 13.3” screen (3,200X1,800) and an active digitizer and pen, and that’s one serious contender for the only device I need. Pricing and availability remains unknown, and it’s possible that Samsung could price the thing out of the market, but I remain hopeful that they’ll be aggressive. Simply put, I want one.
In the meantime, I’m going to go out on a limb here and recommend Windows 8, particularly on a touchscreen device. Without a touchscreen, it’s a little less convenient, but it’s workable with keyboard shortcuts and a good trackpad. It doesn’t slow me down over Windows 7, which is what’s most important—I just had to give it a chance. I suggest you do the same before writing it off as a Vista-like failure, and let me know your own experiences in the comments.
Note: Even if you rely on the Windows 7 Start Menu, you have options. One is Classic Shell, which adds the Start Menu back into Windows 8. With Microsoft adding a straight-to-desktop mode to Windows 8.1, such a tool could make Windows 8 essentially identical to Windows 7. Not that I recommend it, though…