Windows 8 on a Touch Screen

Today I got my Cyber Friday Dell ST 2220T which for those of you who don’t read Dell model numbers is is a 22″ 1080p IPS display with Optical Touch support for Windows 8. I’ve always been happy with the versatility of Dell displays and their price points and this is no exception. But this isn’t about the display, it’s about using Windows 8 on a touch surface rather than mouse/keyboard.

To get a few things out of the way, yes Windows 8 is a developer preview so sometimes things went a little awry and a re-login (not a whole reboot) was needed. Also, I was using my MacBook Pro in BootCamp and I had to manually install drivers. FYI, it’s a 2.26 Core2Duo 13″ MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM and Mac OS X on a SSD and Windows on a120GB partition on a 500GB 5400rpm HDD. Internal. I removed the optical drive. Since Windows is in Beta and bootcamp of it isn’t even supported I’m not going to write about any glitches because they’re obviously my fault.

  • Metro does look sane at 1024×768 AND 1920×1080. It’s neither useless cramped at lower resolutions nor is it awkwardly sparse at higher ones.
  • Metro lets you scroll the normal “tablet” way by scrolling in a view or the “classic” way by dragging the scrollbars. The Scrollbars are more subtle than previous versions of Windows without being nonexistent like Lion scrollbars.
  • The onscreen keyboard for Metro Apps appears as needed, like iOS etc, but for some reason the number pad is in the “phone” orientation rather than the “number pad” orientation. Since it was a computer, not a phone, I expected the top row to be “7 8 9” not “1 2 3”.
  • “Off Screen” gestures (where you drag from the edge of the screen) are too necessary. Maybe if you’re taught that they exist you’ll be fine but that’s not very “Grandma Friendly”. They also seem inconsistent. When I write my iOS apps I design them all to be operated without a manual. “Pinch to Zoom” is intuitive. Swipe Up for the Address Bar is not. Like the WebOS “Flick” or the iOS Four Finger Swipe between apps, these kinds of things should only be shortcuts and never the only way to do things.
  • Metro is completely void of right clicks. This is a great for touch screens. But regular Windows underneath it is still full of them. Yes, they’re shortcuts, but they’re really big ones. To change the desktop background in Windows 7, you can right click the desktop, and change it. Or, you can press start, and start typing “Background” or “Desktop” into the Spotlight Search. In Windows 8, without right clicking, you have to go to the control panel, then “more”, than Appearance or something. I’ve read that “holding” a touch makes a right click but I couldn’t get it to work. Maybe drivers, who knows. Either way, being a Windows veteran it was far too annoying to use the “normal” stuff without it. I suggest Windows steal the UIPopOverController from iOS to replace contextual menus with more useful more versatile views and let them be triggered by “normal” tapping on something.

Right now, Metro and Windows are at a very awkward distance from each other. It’s most like two high school relationship virgins who “like” like each other but are both to shy to ever make a move. They sit next to each other in class, are lab partners, maybe even walk home together but they don’t hold hands, they don’t kiss, they don’t flirt, but they desperately want to. Windows and Metro need to comfort each other about their feelings and either become an item or decide to be just friends who share the same PC.

When I’m using Visual Studio or any non-metro App, with a keyboard and mouse, accidentally hitting the Windows key because I wanted to search or Run or launch something because a homicidal fit of rage when presented with the Metro Screen, which btw is ASS to navigate with arrow keys or a mouse. If two finger horizontal scrolling on my MacBook worked that’d be different, but that’s not gonna happen any time soon. It will be many a year before proprietary business apps (and anything that uses citrix) are ready for Metro, so maybe some people would just like to forget it exists at all.

Similarly, when not using Metro Apps, you need a mouse an keyboard. While the Flash killing mouseover events aren’t too big of a deal, the non-automatic keyboard is. Leaving the onscreen keyboard up at all times at a usable size wastes space. As it is now, you “can’t” use non-Metro apps any better than current Windows 7 tablets.

And that’s where the hormonal adolescents come back into the picture. If they’re not going to date and we’re going to call them “Windows” and “Metro” separately, then we need a way to completely partition them. Doing so would require the entire control panel and all MS apps to run in Metro. Ideally they will date and we’ll call the whole thing “Windows 8”.