I heart Windows 8, and I think my mom will love RT

[This blog post was initially written in Office 2013 Preview on a laptop running Windows 8 90 day trial.]

Introduction

There have been many critical voices concerning the design and usage of the upcoming version of the Redmond flagship, Windows 8. I would by little this long post try to state why I am excited by this new Ballmer baby and why I would be willing to stand in line for days like a college iFan. The article, if you may call it that, will focus on my thoughts and examples, which may offshoot the argumentation for some.

My next Tablet PC will be my best computer yet

As an engineering student at the University in Denmark while being engaged in 2 NGO’s internationally, I tend to use my trusted Toshiba PC for a lot of different tasks. In a single week’s duration I may deliver a presentation in front of a couple of hundred high schoolers, editing pictures from my camera while flying to a neighboring country, finish off the meeting notes or a report at 1 a.m. in the hotel room, watch Youtube clips or checking my Facebook/LinkedIn status on the 5 hour train ride between Copenhagen and Aalborg only for getting home just in the time for the video conference call via Skype. Except for gaming, I use my computer for everything on a regular basis.

Win8 Pro = Better Win7 + more

A lot of people have complained about the “start menu” in the format formerly known as Metro, mainly due to the sheer difference from Windows 7, the fact that not all programs is in the start screen and that the “start button” is now hidden. Well, think hard about the old start menu in the different iteration all the way back to Win95. It wasn’t really that great. Before you were able to search in the start menu in Vista, it was more or less a pain. In the start menu on my Win7 partition, I have collectively spend hours sorting in the shortcuts so I wouldn’t get “remove XX program” before “run XX program” in the search results. Sorting the start menu is a drag, navigating all user and just you and deleting 90 % of the shortcuts.

In Windows 8 start menu, there are no folders. There are categories and sematic zoom. If you hit the Windows key and then start typing, the overall search will prioritize apps and desktop programs first, just like were used to and, consequently just like you would expect.

Personally, I like apps. For many uses, desktop programs are better and bigger, with a lot more versatility as the result. But for everything where you would usually go to a web page, there’s an app for that. It is true that neither Win8 nor WP7 have stores the sheer amount of apps offered by Android’s Market or Apple’s App Store. However, for both competitors, recurring apps (in functionality terms) are a major plus to the account. I don’t care how much of a frat boy or fundamental Christian you are, there have never been a need for 7 fart sound apps or 14 bible apps.

Touchy Tablets!

I just want to touch the hardware for a second. The big thing about Win8 is of cause that it is the first version optimized rather for touch than type. Is this wrong? Well, Microsoft have previously stated the belief in a future of tablets and have even tried making it happen, even before the iPad. These were just WinXP or Win7 PCs with a slight touch overlay. Not enough, which it took the iPad to show. The tablet form factor is really appealing if you, my dear reader, think about it. Light, portable, energy efficient, lots of connectivity methods. My experience with both Android tablets (which I own) and the iPad (which I have tested extensively) have all come to the same conclusion: Their great, but I wish they could do more, like my PC. Queue the Win8 tablet, drumroll and everything! More on that later btw.

I <3 Office

If you haven’t figured it out already, let me just make it obvious that I am, in computer usage terms anyway, really boring. I actually kinda like Excel, it’s that bad. My sister have toppled more green pigs than I ever will, I lost interest for Draw Something after about 8 tries. My PC is my tool, not my friend. I need to be productive for 18 hours of the day and for that, nothing can compare with my current laptop. Last year, just after updating my Android Tablet (Notion Ink Adam) to 3.0 I went to a conference in Hungary, purposely leaving my laptop at home for the lighter alternative. Big, big mistake. Thinking you can cut it using Quickoffice for notetaking and previewing PowerPoint files was in retrospect, stupid. Mark my words. There are no Android office suite that is good enough, I’ve tried!

Then there is Apple office suite. For the sole purpose of testing just that I borrowed an iPad for 2 days in late June. I was surprised, positively. Compared to Android alternatives, Apple is far greater. But compared to Microsoft Office? Especially the new 2013 version? It doesn’t hold a candle in comparison. Microsoft basically invented using your computer for office work, and they are still better at that than everybody else.

Pens/Styluses

Whenever I express my desire to use pens on a tablet, I always get the famous Steve Jobs quote served up. The actual quote is “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” I think Steve Jobs was misunderstood by the statement, it might have come out wrong, because he couldn’t possibly be that ignorant.

Multi touch is great. Before that, it all stylus, which was, well, less great. Have you however tried to take math notes on an iPad? It’s bad, real bad. One of the absolutely greatest about the tablet form factor is that it bears a resemblance to one of the greatest inventions of all time: the paper. When Bill Gates tried to promote Windows XP tablets in the early 2000s it was the major selling point. It was bad for consumer usage, but for note taking, it was supposed to be great. Windows have not forgotten that, why the system (as the only tablet system what I am aware of) fully supports styluses instead of just having it as an add-on. I want a stylus. Full OneNote and proper pen use is the wet dream for students. Annotating PDFs naturally with a pen is the dream for any teacher or professional. My next PC has pen support, I will promise you all that.

An iPad/Android tablet is a secondary device

Here’s a fun game to play if you are a Windows tablet fan (also, maybe the biggest PR stunt Microsoft could use to promote Win8): Every time you see somebody with a tablet, ask them which computer they then use. No definitely not all of them have a Windows PC, but they all have some computer at home. This is because any non-Windows tablet today is what I call a secondary device. A smartphone is the primary device for calling and texting, because you can do it from your pocket. It is however, only a secondary device for productivity and managing tasks, overruled by both the tablet and the PC.

The problem with the tablet as of now is that it is designed as an up scaled smartphone. This means the tablet isn’t really the best at anything. If you have complicated tasks, you use the PC, if it simple, you can usually easier use your phone. This also means that you usually carry 3 devices. Laptop, tablet, smartphone.

Windows 8 tablets are designed as down scaled computers, borrowing app API and design partly from the (WP) smartphone. Most hardware design proposals however differentiates in having full PC usability like USB and HDMI ports while the OS itself have inbuild hardware drivers, the ability to easily read external drives, file exploring (however, not a good touch friendly one yet). When I get my future Windows 8 Pro tablet, my answer to the before mentioned question would be: “This one, obviously”.

Traveling with a full computer weighting less than a kg is a dream for every traveler and every pendler. It is what made Macbook Air so popular, and it is here Windows 8 tablets have their greatest strength.

My mom will love Windows 8 RT

Well it’s all mighty fine you may think, but there was another version of Windows 8. What could you use a Windows computer that cannot run Windows desktop programs for anyway? Well, I can’t use it for much, other than replacing the tablet I already have.

In terms of software, I have the need of running desktop programs. All the engineering programs are made for Windows desktop, why I need a Pro device. The situation is entirely different for my parents though.

My dad do not use his computer much for other than pictures, browsing and mail, while my mother as a grade school teacher occasionally use office suite, mail, printing and other basic PC tasks. She is pretty happy with her netbook, which is a couple of years old. Windows RT products are light, small, probably lets you touch the screen, starts up quickly, holds battery for long, synchronizes well with her iPhone (hand-me-down from my sister), can run easy-to-use apps and comes with the Student Edition of Office 2013. Add a proper keyboard and a price point cheap enough and she would be more than happy with it. All the technology geeks on this side (like myself) cannot use Windows 8 RT, obviously, as our needs are too big for non-Pro editions. But think what your mother would say to a tablet she could use as a full computer too.