Last week we had a chance to sit down with some members of the Windows 8 team and spend some time with the latest version of the Windows 8 Release preview on both a tablet and a laptop.
While we’ve been using Windows 8 on test machines since the developer preview was released, watching people who have been using the operating system for years was an eye opening experience.
One of the major issues we’ve encountered is the way in which touchscreen gestures translate to standard PCs and laptops. Metro is, after all, designed around touch and uses way more than just simple pinch zoom and scrolling to interact.
One of the major aspects of the Windows 8 touch interface is the interplay with screen borders.
A lot of the interactions with the operating system occur on the edge of the screen – swipe your finger from the right hand side of the screen for example and you’ll get a menu with various system commands.
Swipe from the left side and you switch between open apps, while swiping into the left edge and back again brings up a visual listing of the active apps.
While these gestures seem initially esoteric, the logic behind them soon emerges, and the operating system really does shine when used by someone for whom the gesturing is second nature.
One of the big problems with the publically available consumer preview version is that there is no real guidance as to how all these gestures work (the major ones can be found in this PDF from Microsoft) – although Microsoft confimed a tutorial will be included in the final version of the OS.
What we also got a chance to see was the way in which gestures worked with a trackpad. We’ve had problems trying to get it running in the labs, largely due to a lack of Windows 8 beta drivers for the Synaptics trackpad in our test Samsung laptop, so this was our first experience of what will be a markedly common means of interacting with Windows 8.
The gestures are entirely replicated on a multitouch trackpad. Swipe from the edge to get up the various menus, or use gestures such as pinch zoom to interact with actual onscreen content.
This effectively turns a trackpad into a halfway point between touchscreen and mouse, and when Windows 8 launches using gestures on a trackpad will likely be the optimum way to interact with a laptop.
Despite the fact that Windows 8 is designed for touchscreens, we don’t expect to see a huge number of laptops packing such features. One of the issues central to this is the cost of implenting Microsoft’s requirements.
To officially support touch in Windows 8 a five-point digitiser is mandated, which means hardware that can cope with five points of contact with the screen.
A five point digitiser is an expensive feature to add, and somewhat annoying to use on a vertically oriented screen. There is no killer usage model for a touch laptop, beyond the more esoteric offerings that turn the screen into a tablet, like Lenovo’s Ideapad Yoga or Asus’ Taichi.
Hearing that manufacturers were reticent to include these digitisers initally made us worry about using Windows 8 on a laptop. Mouse interaction is still one of our big issues with Metro.
While we have gotten used to the concept of hot corners and charms, the fact that Windows 8 is so reliant on interaction with the edge of the screen makes mousing an at-times annoying experience.
We are still a long way from being sold on Windows 8 on the desktop. But after seeing the trackpad gestures in action, we can at least envision it being less annoying to use on a laptop.
Now if only we could get our hands on the drivers needed to put it into practice ourselves.
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Issue: 315 | May 2013
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