Windows 8 without touch is like a day without sunshine

Windows 8 without touch is like a day without sunshine

Summary: Microsoft shook things up with the interface on Windows 8 designed to work well both with touch and without. It got it half right.

TOPICS: Mobility, Windows 8
Win 8 no touch
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I'll admit that when Windows 8 first arrived it wasn't clear to me what the appeal might be for users. A user interface (UI) with controls to be used a lot but were hidden from the operator didn't make a lot of sense to me. It didn't help that the UI was intended to be used on devices allowing touch operation as well as conventional mouse and trackpad systems. It seemed that Microsoft was trying to do too much with the UI in order to appeal to the broadest market possible.

Windows 8 with its quirky UI has grown on me the more I have used it. I still think the system of swiping in from every edge of the screen to access common controls is not ideal but it works. After using it on a number of devices, mostly tablets and hybrids, I became proficient at getting what I needed done. It is not a particularly enjoyable user experience (UX), but it works fine.

Using Windows 8 with touch, as efficient as it can be given the design choices, does point out how very different the two UIs that exist within the OS are to the user. While touch works fine on the Metro side of things, it falls down on the desktop side. That's the side of Windows where the legacy stuff lives, and to get things done most users have to visit it often enough to discover that touch is not always their friend. It seems that Microsoft is trying to keep folks from straying into the legacy side of things unless it's really necessary, and keeping them in the warm Metro side of things.

With a little practice that's how my Windows 8 use has evolved on all the touch systems I have used. I try to stay on the Metro side of things so touch operation is as good as it can be, with brief forays into the desktop side only when necessary. To be honest, I try to avoid the desktop side if using a tablet, waiting to use it when the tablet is docked into a laptop dock to make it easier with the trackpad. I avoid using the touch screen on the desktop as much as possible, as it's not a clean UX.

This dual mode of operation that has evolved over time works fairly well and I enjoy using Windows 8 as a result. It took time but I have settled into an easy system of using Windows 8. Touch in Metro, trackpad/keyboard in desktop mode.

That's come crashing down as I am testing a new ThinkPad that lacks a touch screen. This 14-inch laptop (review of the T431s coming soon) is a great laptop in every way. It is thin and light yet powerful and good for both the consumer and enterprise crowds. It is the poster child for Windows 8 use, except it doesn't have a touch screen.

Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to work on such devices, so there should be no problem, right? The answer to that question is a big no. You can operate Windows 8 without touch by using the trackpad, but it is very clunky, jolting, and downright inefficient compared to touch operation.

Even with a good laptop trackpad like that on the Thinkpad, using the Metro UI is frustrating. Swiping the trackpad all the way across the surface to get to the tiny hidden corner controls to activate a common control, and then swiping back down to the newly exposed control strip is not efficient. It's not easy, either, which is worse. 

The design choice that requires a swipe from one side (or corner) of the display to acitivate common controls, and then have to go to the opposite side of the display to work with the exposed controls is not pleasant with a laptop trackpad. A common example of this is activating the control in Internet Explorer at the top of the screen and then having to get to the bottom to do something with the control. It's clunky and interruptive to the flow of things.

This leads me to want to stay on the desktop side of things when there's no touch screen, the opposite of the UX when using touch. The Metro side is not well-suited for trackpad use, so I want to stay on the desktop where it works better. That may be easier to do when Blue arrives according to the rumors floating around. Boot to the desktop and avoid Metro altogether if you don't have touch operation.

That's a good thing, but it points out how difficult it is to make Windows 8 the OS that works on all system types. It will never be the best it can be with touch or without. The user will likely have to decide to stay in Metro or in desktop mode based on the hardware on his/her PC. 

Using Windows 8 on a laptop without touch is like an overcast day without sunshine. Before you head out for the day you have to decide if you need to carry an umbrella to avoid getting caught in a shower. Using Windows 8 without touch makes you decide if you will take a mouse with the laptop to make Metro easier to navigate or take your chances it won't frustrate you too much without. Better yet, decide to stay in the legacy side and avoid Metro altogether. It's too bad the UX without touch is so very different than that with touch systems. Windows 8 makes you adjust your use depending on the hardware present, and that's not what an OS should do.

Topics: Mobility, Windows 8

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  • Mouse

    Can't disagree that it's tricky to use with a common touchpad (I'm about to try the large Logitech one to see if that's any better).

    For me it's not at all an issue to use efficiently with a mouse, tough.
    • logitech pad

      I bought one because someone here suggested it. I used it for a couple of months and have discarded it and gone back to my mouse. The only thing I missed was pinch to zoom until I found Ctrl scroll wheel.

      I have always had trouble with touch surfaces because my hands are so big. I guess if the device sees too large a surface area it disregards the touch. My thumbs are nearly useless on a tablet. You should try one though as it may work better for you.
      • Totally agree

        Bought a Logitech touchpad and tried it out for a month or so and now it sits unused on my desk as I went back to my mouse at all times. It works fine, but I don't like using it as much as a mouse. Big waste of $99.00.
        • There is another mode

          The touch works, the mouse works, I will bet he still uses the cursor keys once in awhile. It is actually 3 mode operation. The acient cursor key mode still has its place.

          Touchpad did not work for me either, neither did a trackball. I will stay with my 3 mode, touch screen, mouse, cursor keys.
    • large touch pad is the way to go...

      I've never been a fan of laptop touch pads... mainly because of the positioning (hate that it's at the bottom centre - if anything, I've always thought they'd better positioned above the keyboard than below) When I upgraded my old Win7 Acer laptop to Win8, I added the Logitech t650 - at first I was using both the touchpad and a mouse (for different tasks) - but have completely abandoned the mouse since sometime in December. I don't miss the mouse at all. The larger size of the logitech pad and being able to use it off to the side makes a huge difference.
    • Logitech pas

      I have had Windows 8 for more than a year at work now and I've had a Logitech pad about for 4 months. I've been trying as hard as I can to go away from my mouse but it's not easy. I have both the pad and then mouse plugged in at the same time. I forced myself to use the pad by moving the mouse away from me and having only the pad to work with. After some time, I have been able to get used to the touch pad and can navigate and perform my job functions. However, there are times when the pad just doesn't cut it and I have to reach for my mouse. This is especially true when I'm doing a lot of cut-and-paste or drag-and-drop functions. By default, holding the left button down is performed by pushing down hard on the pad. It's actually a mechanical function. That makes it really hard to drag and item or close a program from a start screen app. There is an option however to have the pad perform a left button hold with a double-tap. In any case, I still find it more difficult to use the pad and I feel like I'm getting carpel tunnel syndrome after a while. I am now using both the mouse and the pad at the same time which is not ideal. Also, pinch and zoom is touchy at best. I think mouse is still the way to go but I would like to have touch screen monitors with it.
  • Windows without a mouse

    I'm pretty sure it's possible to operate windows XP and 7 without a mouse. You can select icons and launch stuff through key combinations. But it's slow and awkward, and hardly intuitive. Windows 8 without a touch screen isn't quite as bad, but it is reminiscent of trying to use XP without a mouse. It just feels wrong.
    • Nah

      Experience will differ by user. For me, key combinations aren't really necessary. Opening the charms bar or getting to the start screen will not take more than 0.5 seconds with a mouse.

      Using key combinations makes it even faster and even more efficient to use, although I only ever use win-D, win-E, and win-cursor, same as in Windows 7.

      However, my girlfriend only ever uses Windows 8 with a touchscreen machine and for her it's awkward to use it on non touch machines.
      • charms

        Win+C for charms
    • It's fine for me.

      My experience with Windows 8 has been a good one so far.

      I don't mind the Modern UI. It's an improvement over the start menu, and the global search is extremely useful.

      Still, I wouldn't mind a boot-to-desktop option.

      It's not a need, but it would be a bit helpful.
  • Just figuring this out now?

    Most of us had figured all this out by like November.
    • And Some Of Us Had It Figured Out Even Before We Ever Used Windows 8

      Like recycled toilet paper, some ideas are so bad, the moment they are described, the only thing that comes to mind is "Stupid. Stupid. Stupid."
      Le Chaud Lapin
  • In use every day without Touch

    Once you know where the controls are it makes no difference that they are hidden because you know how to make them appear when needed. When not needed, content is on full display. So tiring hearing all these so called tech people who are unable to figure out some pretty simple things. Maybe I should get my grandson a blog. He doesn't seem to have a problem with it.
    • Great point...

      I've been creating software companies for many years and launching a 1.0 release for most of us is like defying the laws of physics, and is really a laboratory. Some companies get enough of the usability right up-front, but it's hard. I really like where Windows 8 is headed, and more importantly where Microsoft is killing it in enterprise software and services (check the recent numbers out). I see it coming together for their ecosystem (of which I have prospered) later this year (everything gets updated including the move to 8.1).

      By the way, I agree that a lot of the criticism has been occasionally misleading, but also maybe just short-sighted. Believe it or not, most technologists can't really see the discontinuity signals very easily (fortunately, there are those who are driven to the new-new and make this a great marketplace). To Microsoft's credit, they pay attention to pressure and adapt and I expect 8.1 to show a better way for them to the future, enhanced by new budget cycles emerging this year.
    • You do not engage the point. OS changes should make the UX more efficient

      I know where the q key is on the keyboard, but f is a lot easier to press. The author obviously knows how to activate menus. The menus are just inefficient to use with many trackpads. There are many requirements to move to different edges of the screen.

      Still, a tech savvy user should learn the shortcuts. For example, using a mouse to find an app in submenus is a bit silly, even in windows 7, when you can just type the name of the app and windows will find it for you. That may be inefficient in a touch UI, but it is the best method (apart from shortcuts to common apps) for opening apps quickly when in front of a keyboard.
      • You are correct

        Windows 8 has increase started apps tremendously
        Like you said just start typing... wo or wor for Microsoft Word, press enter, etc...
        Its great and a lot more efficient than a start button and host of menus
      • starting up apps quicker

        You can use this touch gestures solution to launch apps quicker. For example, restart can be done with one quick squiggle on the screen.
  • Windows 8 without touch is like a day without sunshine

    I have Microsoft Windows 8 loaded on a laptop without touch and it works fine. No problems with the mouse or trackpad. I can point and click on everything I need to and makes my life easier.
    • Loverock-Davidson...Sure you do....No problems for Loverock

      Explain how you get around all those flashing tiles in that kiddie UI of Metro? Yah we know you point and click all the way to Zdnet for some FUD posting......Some things never change now do they Lovie?
      Over and Out
      • Please.

        I'm running Windows 8 on three computers: a laptop (without touch), a tablet/laptop hybrid (with touch), and on a desktop PC I have converted into an entertainment center. I have ZERO problems navigating through Windows 8 either way. If you hate the look of it, fine. But it really isn't that hard to navigate. Let's put that argument to bed.