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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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Keyboard still reigns
By bobsmith1492 on 3/29/2012 12:17:16 PM , Rating: 3
For speed and accuracy of anything other than image editing, the keyboard still reigns over the mouse, despite the author's comments.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By xti on 3/29/2012 12:32:53 PM , Rating: 5
really? cuz hitting reply link to prove you wrong was a lot better with the mouse.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By Hakuryu on 3/29/2012 12:53:06 PM , Rating: 4
People are very obstinate about using the keyboard to do things they could do with the mouse, even though it is much faster. Copy and Paste is the best example of this - most people I train continue to use the mouse to hit Edit->Copy or Edit->Paste, when CTRL+C and CTRL+V are much faser and don't take your hands off the keyboard.

Or how about when you open your browser? Hit Tab to enter the address bar, type in Google, and hit CTRL+ENTER to automtically fill out "" - much faster then clicking on a favorite in the list, and you can type your search instantly.

As far as hitting reply, webpages generally have too many links to effectively tab through a page, and a mouse is better in that situation; but by no means does it make it better for everything you do on your PC.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By geddarkstorm on 3/29/2012 2:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
The reason people use the right click for copy and paste is easily explainable. You mouse over to your target and you click to select it/or bring it to focus so you can perform your actions and then... what, you move both your hands to the keyboard to do the short cut command, or simply use your other finger to right click? The total motion is much greater with the keyboard as you have to move your hand from the mouse to the board and back to the mouse, then it is with just right clicking, a little wrist flick, and left clicking.

From a total biological energetics picture, the mouse is more efficient than jumping to the keyboard and back; and it takes about the same amount of time, so the mind naturally optimizes for the most energy efficient method.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By Camikazi on 3/29/2012 4:18:46 PM , Rating: 4
Wait... you need 2 hands on the mouse and 2 hands on the keyboard to use them? Me I'm weird I use my mouse with one hand while my other hand is on the keyboard waiting to hit hotkeys.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By GuinnessKMF on 3/30/2012 10:06:15 AM , Rating: 2
Reigns supreme? Have you heard of "the right tool for the right job"? Input devices each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Keyboards certainly are the best for text and simple command entry, but they're not the end all be all.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By jimbojimbo on 3/29/2012 5:15:26 PM , Rating: 2
That was hilarious! You use two hands for your mouse and you need two hands to hit Ctrl and C which are two inches from each other!! Too funny.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By RufusM on 3/29/2012 5:43:05 PM , Rating: 2
I'm waiting for the 5 finger with gestures!

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By xti on 3/29/2012 3:15:09 PM , Rating: 2
agree 100%, i was pointing out that there are things outside of image editing that a mouse shines at, unlike the original comment stated. clicking a link on a website is an example. To be fair, touching the link, as experienced on our phones/tables, is probably even better.

it drives me nuts that people go to the edit menu to copy and paste. its like...stop wasting seconds off my life before I call you Camel Lights.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By jimbojimbo on 3/29/2012 5:17:36 PM , Rating: 2
What aggravates me the most is when people type in their information, move their right hand to the mouse, drag the pointer to OK and click. Just hit Enter!!

Don't drag your mouse to that X, hit Alt+F X or C!!

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By borismkv on 3/29/2012 1:23:44 PM , Rating: 2
*tab tab tab tab tab tab tab tab tab...Crap. I missed tab tab tab tab tab*

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By Tuor on 3/29/2012 1:59:25 PM , Rating: 3
Crap. I missed it... shift-tab. Done.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By geddarkstorm on 3/29/2012 2:17:04 PM , Rating: 2
He was talking about shift-tab. Ever had a mouse go out on you and had to do everything in 7 with the keyboard? Quite a cumbersome pain verses the efficiency of the mouse. And yes, one extra tab during the shift-tab, and you have to tab around all over again, instead of a simple single click with a mouse.

When it comes to OS desktop GUIs, which are built around the mouse, the mouse simply reigns.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By geddarkstorm on 3/29/2012 2:18:52 PM , Rating: 2
Oh wait oops, I was thinking of alt-tab! Yeah, shift-tab heads you the other way in case you missed. Doop dee doop.

RE: Keyboard still reigns
By GuinnessKMF on 3/30/2012 4:24:19 PM , Rating: 2
Shift-alt-tab . . .

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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