Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

Summary: Can an operating system be optimized for both touch and standard input methods? Microsoft believes so.


As more information comes out from Redmond about Windows 8, it's clear that Microsoft has its sights set on the operating system being tablet ready. But is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on tablets at the expense of traditional Windows-powered systems.

In a blog post on Building Windows 8, Microsoft's President of the Windows Division Steven Sinofsky shows off the new Windows 8 start screen and how the upcoming OS will be both "a reimagined" and a "no compromises" release.

Some of you are probably wondering how these parts work together to create a harmonious experience. Are there two user interfaces? Why not move on to a Metro style experience everywhere? On the other hand, others have been suggesting that Metro is only for tablets and touch, and we should avoid "dumbing down" Windows 8 with that design.

So, how's it going to work? According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 will be a "balancing act" that will see "both of user interfaces together harmoniously" within Windows 8.

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can't just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. In fact, that is exactly what some people are afraid of us doing. Some have said that is the only path to take. Yet, even those who have fully embraced tablets also own a laptop for those times when they need more precise control or need to use one of the apps that are mission critical (and are still being developed). In people's desire not to carry around two different devices, "remote desktop" programs for tablets and phones have become popular but extremely awkward attempts to harness the usefulness of the Windows 7 desktop within a new form factor.

Sinofsky dismisses the idea of completely redesigning the Windows UI from the ground up and converting everything to the Metro UI because Microsoft as now come up with a "design that truly affords you the best of the two worlds we see today."

[I]f you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop-we won't even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there! This is Windows reimagined.

I've got to admit that I'm worried. With the traditional UI now being optional, Microsoft is putting an awful lot of time and effort into making its Windows 8 tablet ready. But how big will the market be for "touch-enabled" Windows 8 devices such as tablets and high-end notebooks featuring touch screens? Right now the only company that can seem to turn out tablets in any volume is Apple, and Apple isn't shoehorning a desktop operating system onto its iPad.

While Sinofsky is clever enough not to say it in the blog post, the feeling I get is that Microsoft now sees the traditional desktop UI as "legacy," and that's worrying. It's worrying because it's now clear that Microsoft can't Metro-fy things like Windows Explorer and is instead relying on the using a ribbon UI. Problem with the ribbon is that it's hardly touch-friendly.

Does this look "touchy" to you?

This takes Windows in a direction that I don't want to see it take ... that is one of oversimplification, or to put that another way, dumbing down.

Balancing acts are tricky, and until I see it in action, I'm worried that Microsoft is getting too obsessed with touch. While Metro looks nice (well, it looks nice on smartphones, it's too early to tell what it will be like on the desktop), smearing lots of lipstick on a pig's snout doesn't change the fact that it's a pig. Unless Metro actually morphs into a complete replacement for the current UI, it'll be nothing more than a dumbed down shell hiding the "real" Windows underneath.

What do you think?

Topics: Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

    I kind of took his post to mean that if we don't want to see the desktop, we won't - the code won't load. That to me seems like we'll have all the functions of Windows in the Metro environment. <br><br>However, Explorer will be used on traditional desktops - touch need not apply. I can almost guarantee there will be an option to disable the Metro code entirely, there has to be as I can assume business and home users of desktops will not want to constantly navigate through that. <br>The ribbon, though, is more touch friendly than anything Microsoft has done so far, and I use it daily on my convertible when I use Office and Live Essentials. It's not as bad as one assumes. Moist of the controls are just as large as any you find on iOS or Android, and the touch screens of most tablets are pretty good at finding the center of your finger to manipulate the intended control. If not, there is always a stylus, yes that thing Jobs declared "evil" and kind of ignored. Say what you will, but when working with data - something the iPad can't do - they come in handy and can be an indispensable tool.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

      @Cylon Centurion I've come to pretty much the same conclusion. I've used a touch enabled laptop for several years now, and never found any real problems using Windows in a touch manner. The ribbon isn't a problem for touch either.
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        @roteague, yep, pretty much my conclusion as well. The ribbon is actually great for touch. I have an HP Slate and running Windows 7 is actually fairly easy to do with touch. I do look forward to the MetroUI of Windows 8. I like that is part of Windows 8, so I can use my touch screen monitor on my desktop as well as a keyboard and mouse.
    • I too don't understand all the fuss about touch

      I'd be more interested in any initiatives in Kinect rather stuff requiring me to leave finger prints all over the screen.
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        @LBiege The fuss is due to the fact that sales of mobile computing (phones + pads) are increasing exponentially, and touch is how you use those devices. I understand your comment when it comes to a desktop, but MS still owns that space very comfortably. It's the pull through of the phones/tabs that they are looking to enable given they are so far behind in those spaces. Sure, you could argue they should just follow Apple's (and Goog's) path of two separate OSes but if this plays out well, the advantages of a single codebase across the 3 screens will be readily apparent to developers and even end users, e.g., how many apps do you buy on iOS and wish they would run on OS/X or vice versa (without either emulation or having to buy a second version)
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        You are absolutely correct! (Is it legal to reply with agreement rather than argument?) I've been playing with the OpenKinect project and the prospects are fascinating even in their current state.
    • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

      @Cylon Centurion But the iPad isn't a "replacement" for the MacBook Pro (while the MacBook Air blurs the line somewhat it is still firmly in the "Mac" camp). The problem is Microsoft still haven't figured out what the iPad is, and what it is not.

      This is dangerous for them, because they are trying to head off a threat they don't fully understand.

      The iPad is a system that is used for short timeframes and often. This is why it has to have a long battery life and wake pretty much instantly from sleep. This is why a stylus is wrong for it. You might use an iPad for reading and responding to email, or taking a note of something, consulting your schedule, looking up a telephone number or address, reading/correcting a document, reading web resources or referring to information. Yes it CAN run a spreadsheet, but you'd not spend hours at that like you might on a "PC". For a lot of people the iPad is enough but many (self included) use it as an adjunct to something more traditional. But it DOES have strong use cases where it IS better than a laptop. In truth I use the iPad more OFTEN than a "PC" but not for "AS LONG". Typically the iPad get's used for between 20 seconds and 20 minutes at a time.

      This isn't what Microsoft's Tablet PC is like, that is more like a traditional PC. I had one, and outside OneNote I didn't use the "ink" very often. It was most of the time "a laptop". I didn't use it as often as an iPad (mostly because the "boot" took to damn long) and its sloth made the quick "looking up" too painful (I used paper equivalents!)

      Microsoft STILL don't get the iPad.

      The problem for them is putting the two devices in one won't promote growth. This is the "curse of the Apple III" if you make it run legacy software too well, then new software won't get created. Plus people don't choose well. If I offered you a nice light word processor stripped to just the essential features, you'd probably still choose Word. Why? "Just in case I need those things" Touch applications would have this problem.
      • I suspect the assumption is wrong

        To me it looks like MS is shooting for a different market than the iPad leveraging on the iPad adoption.
        Based on this, they don't need to "get" the iPad.
        I personally think MS is heading in thie right direction.
        And it is not the iPad market.
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?


        Do you not see that when used as a tablet, Windows 8 can be used in the same way as an iPad? Similar battery life, form factor, full touch UI, simple navigation. Plus with the added benefit of a more organised and capable OS (think WP7 upscaled) you can also do some more advanced tasks that are currently difficult or impossible on an iPad style tabler (managing files or multitasking for example).

        I see Microsoft's goal as creating one OS that can be used in at least two different ways (i.e. tablet and 'traditional') depending on the form factor and the preference/needs of the user. In fact one device can be both a tablet AND a desktop with different ways to interract based on context.

        The natural progression is to make the desktop UI more touch friendly (without compromising the mouse/keyboard) to enable tablet use to expand to some desktop tasks when required (e.g. larger buttons, clear spacing between UI elements).

        I think Microsoft do get the iPad, and I think they get it more than Apple. They know the iPad is very limited due to its aim of being very simple. There is no reason to limit a tablet in such a way. It seems that Windows 8 addresses the main iPad problems by using a smarter OS and UI.
      • Nobody has figured out what the iPad is and isn't.


        Lets get right to the root of the problem. In the most general of terms, nobody knows what the iPad is or isn't, at least until they buy one and find out much to their shock and surprise its not actually a full and proper computer.

        Now of course, Microsoft and any other company has purchased an iPad or two, to say the least, and of course, one would hope they would then be able to figure out what an iPad is for...right? Not so easy.

        The problem being, the companies obviously know what an iPad is and isn't, what they cant figure out, or at least believe is why so many people want to own one. There in lies the true puzzle.

        The truth is a relatively small number of sales have gone to people or organizations who have a real great purpose to put the iPad for, but the problem exists because multi millions of these have been sold and the vast majority of people who purchased them, well, nobody who has considered the issue on a cost/value basis can figure out why someone would spend the money on one of these iPad things.

        Anyone who actually sits down and analyzes the situation and asks why someone on a limited budget, (read in; 'doesn't have $500 to just pitch at something'), would spend $500 on an iPad cant come up with a rational reason. A rational reason would give companies a target to shoot at, something to work on and improve and try to "one up" the iPad in some way and make a more competitive product. The problem is, the only answer, as has been born out by numerous recent examples in the marketplace, people want the thing because its an "Apple gadget" and its promoted as the next cool thing. Not for what it does, not for being an indispensable tool, and not even for being a true "next cool thing". Nope. More simply because its purported by Apple to be the next cool thing, and absolutely unbelievable as it may seem, that as it turns out is good enough for millions around the world to blow $500 on one of these things.

        Its not that iPad's don't have any cool factor at all, its not that an iPad cant be a 'handy' thing or that an iPad is dysfunctional. Just not anywhere near $500 worth given that its doesn't really replace anything, and its less portable then a smartphone, so its not like its opened up some new great era of portable computing. Its kind of lousy at creating, it has no DVD drive and you cant plug in a USB device. Its got limited memory, (odd for a machine thats for viewing and doesn't have a DVD drive). Anyone who REALLY understands what an iPad is, and doesn't have money to burn cant figure out why someone would spend $500 on one of these things and there in lies the core problem.

        If the competition really wants to compete they basically have to simply build and sell a better iPad, and I mean it will really have to be an actual REAL GENUINE iPad from Apple because in the minds of a vast majority of purchasers, thats the only rational/irrational reason why they are buying an iPad. Because Apple made it and said its the next great thing. If your not producing an Apple iPad then you are not producing what makes the thing sellable. Unless of course you can afford to produce something close and charge about 20% of what Apple charges. As HP proved there is a price point where purchasing one of these dumb things actually exists in line with its actual usability and functionality; and its way way less then $500.

        Yes, the problem I guess isn't so much that nobody can figure out what an iPad is or isn't, its just that as soon as a company, any company has figured out what the thing actually is, they just cant figure out what it is thats driven so many millions of people to pay Apple so much for one. One the surface it looks on paper to be an unsellable white elephant, but then again, other companies then Apple don't have the wonderful capacity to be able to tell the world with a straight face they have invented the next great thing and have millions around the world just believe it. And of course if your product isn't Apple, at that point there is zero motivation to purchase. Thats what the other tech companies cant get their head around.
      • Clearly you've not used any recent Win Tablets

        @Jeremy-UK My Windows tablet wakes instantly (yes INSTANTLY) - there's no "boot time" - I press the power button and it's on

        I use it for all the usual "tabletey" functions (reading the Wall Street Journal on the Nook app while on the train, doing email, reading/correcting docs, surfing the web, video conferencing, etc.) - AND I can also use apps like Visio and Excel on it very effectively on the fly

        If I need to do something like extensive typing where onscreen keyboards can be less speedy (yes even on the iPad), I can just plug it into the keyboard dock and turn it into a notebook - then just disconnect it and take the tablet with me when I hit the road

        And of course since it's Win7, the tablet links into my home and office ecosystems without issue so if I use my desktop PC (yes it's touch enabled too) to author a document, I can instantly sync it to my tablet just before I leave
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        I didn't know that had already been released yet??? Be so kind and tell how you come by one???? Thank you!
        • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

          I guess when you can answer the question, that's your only out! What you say???
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        @windozefreak Oh I see your confusion! I'm talking (in that paragraph) about what Microsoft HAVE done with Tablets (not Windows 8). The one I had was a Compaq TC-1000 (long since gone). Don't get me wrong, OneNote was very useful, but that was about it. Other stuff wasn't significantly changed by the addition of "Ink" (or perhaps the "Ink" was pretty pointless). OneNote IS the exception (and without "Ink" OneNote stinks).

        My point is Microsoft are trying to counter something they don't fully grok. And I don't see many people here "get it" either.

        If you're expecting something that is a drop in replacement to a laptop (or even that soulless box of hate the "Netbook") then you're wrong.

        If that means that you think it's useless - then I pity your lack of imagination. There are plenty of things a laptop/netbook is bad at. Ever tried to manage your time with a laptop? It is hopeless. The thing is all wrong. A "smartphone" is better, but the screen is a bit small (I need to see more days at a time). Or email on the hoof? Sure you CAN use a smartphone, but I'm too old and cranky to put up with that. Or... [you get the idea]

        But, no I don't want to sit at the iPad and work for three hours on a report. But maybe it's different for all you guys, but there IS more to my life than that.

        I guess what I'm worried about isn't the iPad - Apple aren't screwing that up. What DOES worry me is Microsoft screwing up the PC trying to make it into an iPad (because I don't need another iPad - I got one, but I do still need to use PCs).

        So I don't think you need to necessarily need to "get" the iPad to see that what I'm worried about IS a risk, and especially as I don't think they even understand what they are trying to hit. If they ARE committed to doing their "iPad-killer", fine, lose money, but make it a giant WP7.

        If they really want to do "proper Windows" tablets - fine, make it pen-based, traditional UI. It is hopeless as an "iPad-killer", but OneNote is still cool.
      • *

    • Believe it or not, I agree with you.

      @Cylon Centurion: When Apple converted from its old MacOS 9 to OS X, one thing they emphasized was a form of backwards compatibility called <i>Classic Mode</i>; literally, putting the old OS 9 into a virtual machine so legacy software and new could be run side-by-side. Apple kept the Classic mode in OS X for roughly 8 years to give people the time to migrate to newer software without being pushed.
      The description of Windows 8 flat eliminating the legacy desktop (at user choice) means that if you make the wrong choice, you're forced then and there to upgrade all of your software to Win8 compatibility--a potentially very expensive proposition.
      But that is the problem; based on what I've read here you get one or the other, not necessarily both, and you really need both until people get used to the new UI.
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?


        Sinovsky compared the traditional UI to an app - the implication being that it is loaded when/if you want to use it, just like any other app. It's a shell. The core OS and all its functionality is available via APIs to any app based on the new or old UI. The user will choose whether they interact via one of those UIs or both. I see no reason to think that any Windows 8 user will be limited to one of the possible UIs.
      • You can have both

        @vulpine@... Within Metro, just touch the Classic button and the classic UI loads. The load is loaded/unloaded, but both are installed. No fear or FUD without knowledge.
        A Gray
      • RE: Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

        @vulpine@... I understand this is a kind of "switch", you can jump from one mode to the other. My problem with this why would developers produce Metro apps? Metro apps will seem like "lite" versions, most people will probably "choose" the "full feature" versions. Also what happens when you have something running in one mode when you switch? My understanding is the app runs in the background, but doesn't make the jump with you. So you CAN get back to it, but only in its chosen UI. So you're stuck running a "Metro" app with a mouse and keyboard (hopeless if it's truly "multitouch" - the mouse is a single pointer device) or you're stuck running a "Legacy" app with a touch surface (and we already know that's hopeless).

        Microsoft seem to think this is the "best of both worlds" but actually at least some of the time it's the "worst of both worlds".

        So, as a developer, what's my motivation to create those "Metro" apps?
    • Agree

      @Cylon Centurion .. my understanding was the same: Win8 will have a dual-operating mode - one for light (on the go) mobile activities & travel; the other mode for when the user wants to get some serious, real work / business tasks done.

      Personally, i think it's high time and a great idea that improves on the "tech toy" limitations the whole iPad concept provokes from those that dislike the strictly, tablet form factor and decreased device functions set.