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Backwards compatibility with Windows 7 2-finger touch is also a key focus of Microsoft

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world's largest operating system maker, after hearing years of comments on how we are living in a "post-PC" era in which users are using their smartphones and tablets more than their PCs (supposedly) made one of the most ambitious moves in its history with its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.  Microsoft decided to use touch to drive its interface.

I. Windows 8 Touch -- Not the Mayan Apocalypse (Though People Think it is)

Touch is a very threatening prospect to many users as they fear that Microsoft will under-deliver experience-wise for traditional mouse-and-keyboard systems.  In a recent official Windows Team blog on touch progress, many of the comments were complaints griping about lacking experience for traditional non-touch input hardware.

Writes "pffft", "how about a more mouse friendly ui and you change the name from WINDOWS to WINDOW because you can only view one at a time.....that works really great."

Windows President Steven Sinofsky thus far has dodged these questions.  While he noticeably answered some other minor questions in the comments section, he refused to address the criticism surrounding non-touch hardware experience, thus far.  But you can be he's listening.

This is the huge elephant in the room and it's hard to even begin a discussion on Windows 8 touch without first putting it out there and putting things in perspective.

There are a few things, however, that everyone should keep in mind:
  1. The beta (Consumer Preview) is meant to test emerging features.

    Microsoft already has tried and true traditional input in Windows 7.  While Windows 8 will likely be a bit faster for such systems and pack some nice improvements to the system utilities, the key new I/O feature is touch.  So it makes sense that the Consumer Preview would fixate on touch.
  2. Multi-touch + keyboard + mouse is the future of I/O.

    The reaction to touch is similar to the reaction to the mouse in the 1980s, when most consumers most experienced them.  Many users thought that you should only need a keyboard to control your system and were angered at OSs that were built around the mouse.  The reaction to multi-touch is no different.  While arguably the addition of touch to the already rich mouse/keyboard I/O atmosphere offers the best experience yet, users will be upset at Microsoft for "wasting" time on innovation.  Someday when the next great I/O transitition comes along, these customers will likely be among the same to complain about "why can't we just make Windows work on good old-fashioned multi-touch devices".  You can't stop progress.
  3. Oh great, my Windows 8 screen will be covered in fingerprints....

    Well, perhaps not -- displaymakers are increasingly moving towards oleophobic (oil resistant) displays, such as the display found in Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) recent iPhone model.  While this won't prevent oil deposition, it makes smudge-free cleaning as simple as a swipe of a dry cloth (as the oil doesn't adhere to the surface).

II. Windows 8 Focuses on 2-Finger Touch

Touch debate aside, Microsoft's latest blog is all about touch. It outlines a fundamental gesture set, which is based on 2-finger gestures:
Windows gestures

At first this may seem like a step back from Apple's iOS, which incorporates up to five fingers in its core UI gestures.  But keep in mind that the majority of Apple's gestures use two-finger touch.  

Those that do not (four/five finger swipe to switch apps, four/five finger pinch to go to home screen, four/five finger swipe up to open multi-tasking menu) largely are predicated on the lack of a taskbar.  In Windows your taskbar (the classic multi-tasking menu) is always there; you're always on the homescreen.  Thus switching apps is never more than two simple clicks away, which is arguably more intuitive that a complex multi-finger gesture, followed by a click.  

Furthermore, Windows is designed for real work, thus the idea of using a multi-finger swipe up (essentially the equivalent of ALT+TAB) or a multi-finger swipe sideways (essentially the equivalent of WINDOWS+TAB) to switch between apps would be useless given the large number of apps currently open and the high degree of jumping between apps non-chronologically.  It makes sense in a tablet world, though, so Microsoft might consider adopting it in the long run for that niche.

III. Windows 8 Working on Windows 7 Touch hardware

The 2-finger requirement also allows Microsoft's Windows 8 to work well on older Windows 7 touch hardware such as:
  • HP Elitebook 2760p convertible (Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ))
  • ASUS EP121 tablet (ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357)
  • Dell Inspiron Duo convertible (Dell, Inc. (DELL))
  • Lenovo x220t convertible (Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992)
  • 3M M2256PW 22” display (3M Comp. (MMM))
  • Samsung Series 7 slate (Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930))

Microsoft provides an interesting pie-chart that gives some idea about the relative rates of adoption of different kinds of touch devices in Windows 7 with respect to each other:
Touch adoption

Interestingly, convertibles and all-in-ones dominate.  This just goes to show either how poorly pure Windows 7 tablets have done, and/or shows how much of a demand there is for convertible tablets.

In the blog Microsoft explains that older Windows 7 touch hardware lacks the extra detection needed to distinguish edge-swipe gestures, a critical part of the Metro UI.  In order to make them work it's added a 20 pixel "buffer" to the corners of the screen -- which will not be accessible to apps. On Windows 7 era tablets/laptops this could be a small but significant portion of the resolution, creating some unsightliness.

Otherwise, the key thing in using Windows 7 is to eliminate "jitter" -- gesture confusion arising from poor detection.  Using some clever algorithms Microsoft was able to make the gestures reliable -- with an average success rate of between 80 and 100 percent, based on its collected statistics.

IV. The Road Ahead

Bear in mind that while Microsoft is only using 2-finger touch in its core functionality, in order to provide Windows 7 backwards compatibility, apps can use up to five-finger touch -- a requirement for new Windows 8 touch machines.  Thus Windows 7 touch devices will be able to fully use Windows 8, but not necessarily all of its apps.

According to Windows 8's hardware requirements (see Digitizer entries), five-finger touch is a requirement for all Windows 8 machines.  Microsoft currently lists no exceptions to this requirement.

So reportedly any new Windows machine will now come equipped with touch for better or worse.  For more info on Microsoft's specific device requirements, see here.

It will also pack a host of other improvements.  Most importantly, it blows Windows 7 away in speed and performance tests.  

Other perks include a developer-friendly 20-80 Microsoft-developer split for high-grossing apps, less painful Windows Update processfaster bootsdecreased OS resource consumption, and improved file transfers, a streamlined upgrade process for the initial installation, and switching to a primarily online sales distribution model.

Users will have to adapt to the mouse, just they adapted going from horse reins to steering wheel or from mouse to mouse+keyboard.  Users may not like it, but Windows 8 is meant to touch. 

Sources: Microsoft [1], [2]

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Windows 7 Forever!
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 11:21:57 AM , Rating: -1
As things stand, it looks like Win7 Pro will be the last OS I ever buy from Microsoft. Hopefully, MS will continue to be supported for many years into the future.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 11:27:50 AM , Rating: 2
The above should state: Hopefully, Win7 will continue to be supported for many years into the future.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By konman795 on 3/29/2012 11:45:30 AM , Rating: 2
You just need to wait until the next Windows version after 8. That's Microsoft's usual pattern of one good version of Windows then one bad (XP -> Vista -> 7 -> 8). But I'm speaking too soon as I haven't actually tried Windows 8 myself.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Mitch101 on 3/29/2012 2:48:48 PM , Rating: 2
I use Windows 8 now and its slightly better than Windows 7 but navigation is open to debate. Once you get past how to navigate your fine. A touch screen makes more sense or what might make sense is a touch pad mouse or kinect.

Overall I think Microsoft should just give you the option of start menu or touch screen when installing and that will solve the problem for everyone griping. The average user wont make the registry changes to get start back.

What I haven't seen a reason for Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 8 in fact if they dont offer the option of start menu out of the box I can see people avoiding it.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By YashBudini on 3/29/2012 7:16:49 PM , Rating: 2
You just need to wait until the next Windows version after 8. That's Microsoft's usual pattern of one good version of Windows then one bad (XP -> Vista -> 7 -> 8).

I recall people saying the same thing about Star Trek movies.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By StraightCashHomey on 3/29/12, Rating: 0
RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 12:35:42 PM , Rating: 3
Really. What an... interesting conclusion.

Let's see. I own (or owned):

Windows: 98, ME, XP, Vista, and 7. But now, because I refuse to embrace this new Metro UI which is clearly intended for tablets and not desktops, I am in love with Jobs?

I *loathe* Apple. I have ever since the days when I owned an Amiga and had to listen to Apple hypocrites snobbishly going on and on about how wonderful Apple was, and how it was better than everyone else, and how PC users were too stupid to understand... while all the while, Amigas boasted better specs in almost every category than what Apple had: these Apple fans were doing the very thing they were accusing PC users (as in users of IBM PC clones) of doing. Frigging Birkenstock yuppies. So, yes, I find your accusation particularly galling... and untrue.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Mitch101 on 3/29/2012 2:35:42 PM , Rating: 1

1- Disable the Metro gui and use the Start option just like Windown 7.
2- Get a Kinect for your PC and use hand gestures.
3- Learn these keyboard shortcuts
ALT+TAB - Switch Between Apps
ALT+F4 - Close Application
Want to Load a Specific Application or Document - Just start typing the name and you will be provided a list and faceted search to narrow your results.
4- Buy a touch screen
5- Learn to accept your new evil overlords at Apple.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 2:49:07 PM , Rating: 2
1. If I can *completely* disable Metro, then I will consider getting Win 8.

2. Not interested in Kinect... at all.

3. I know some of those shortcuts. But if I'm going to have to rely on them all the time, that would be... cumbersome.

4. Screw that.

5. To *hell* with that. :P

Additional Option:

6. Stick with Win 7 and hope that MS comes back to their senses with Win 9.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By andre-bch on 3/29/2012 5:17:04 PM , Rating: 4
Did you at least try the metro UI, or just looked at some pictures.
People are usually afraid of radical new things, but they get used to it over time, like they did with mouse + keyboard in the past.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By MrBlastman on 3/30/2012 10:42:10 AM , Rating: 2
I've been doing quite a bit of dos gaming in the past year (console ports to the PC suck not to mention the intense lack of gameplay in games these days--contradictory, no?) and forgot how wonderful the all-keyboard interfaces were, or how the ones that used both mouse/keyboard could be navigated so efficiently with just the keyboard.

Take Worlds of Xeen, for instance. It has a bunch of nice icons on it and menus you can click on but, really, you never need to click on anything, ever, period. The whole system can be driven with a keyboard (aside from selecting a particular foe--but I'm sure I just forgot the hotkey for that). Spells, inventory, quests, items, saving, restoring--everything, easily done via the keyboard. Of course, you could use the mouse but... why would you want to?

Ultima 6 is another example. It was one of those titles in an awkward time when mouse was beginning to be used on PC's but, it handled keyboard input so well that you never needed to touch a mouse if you didn't want to. Ultima 7 was a step back from 6 as far as usability and playability when 7 went to a pure mouse interface (with some keyboard shortcuts).

So what's my point? That game designers should be designing OS UI's? Maybe. More importantly, though, UI's trying to bridge a gap, as illustrated by these two titles, can do so quite efficiently for both styles--letting user preference rule rather than forcing them to feel pain trying to do one or the other. Ultima 7 forced the pain and thus was annoying to play versus 6 which was equal in both (though keyboard is much faster limited only by how quickly you can push buttons).

You shouldn't have to get "used" to a new UI--it should feel natural to you. If it doesn't--or doesn't let you be natural, then it is a failed system.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Ammohunt on 3/29/2012 11:02:04 PM , Rating: 2
I will wait for Windows X

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By ShaolinSoccer on 3/29/2012 1:24:50 PM , Rating: 3
Nothing wrong with Windows 8. It's actually extremely easy to use with a mouse and keyboard. You just have to spend about 5 minutes learning the OS. My only gripe about Windows 8 is the apps don't support 720p. So that leaves out a lot of people who have 720p TV's and want to use Windows 8 on it.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Mitch101 on 3/29/2012 2:39:51 PM , Rating: 2
Use the 1366x768 resolution.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 2:51:57 PM , Rating: 1
Too bad my monitor is 1920x1200, and that resolution doesn't appear to be supported.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By Mitch101 on 3/29/2012 4:06:08 PM , Rating: 2
I think everyone is stuck on the Windows 8 supported tablet resolutions or most common resolutions list Microsoft released. So 1920x1200 is supported just like my 5760x1080 isn't listed but supported.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By jimbojimbo on 3/29/2012 5:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
His response was to the previous poster wanting 720p which is the correct answer. As for you when the proper video drivers come out maybe you'll get that option. You forget that the version out right now is a consumer preview NOT the full version with whatever it will support.

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By ShaolinSoccer on 3/30/2012 7:20:55 AM , Rating: 2
How can it be the "correct" answer when the TV says "that mode is not supported"...

Do you people just make this stuff up without actually trying it?

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By ShaolinSoccer on 3/30/2012 7:27:53 AM , Rating: 2
Use the 1366x768 resolution.

That does not work...

RE: Windows 7 Forever!
By YashBudini on 3/29/2012 7:23:11 PM , Rating: 2
You just have to spend about 5 minutes learning the OS.

But look at how long it takes to change a setting they decided you wouldn't touch.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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