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Windows 8: No touch, no fun

The downside of running Windows 8 Consumer Preview with a mouse and keyboard

By , Network World
March 06, 2012 08:07 AM ET

Network World - The plan was to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a touchscreen device and see how easy it is to use fingers to navigate the Metro user interface, but that's not how it worked out.

Due to a driver issue, the touchscreen didn't work, so the only option for getting around was mouse and keyboard, which was certainly doable, but revealed that touch is really the way to go with this radically different Microsoft platform.

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While it is designed to also support mouse and keyboard, Windows 8 is built for touchscreen and is often clunky without it. It remains to be seen whether there will be a professional version of the operating system and how it will differ from the consumer preview, but if mouse and keyboard remain unwieldy that will make it unpopular in businesses. End users learning new ways of performing tasks will present hurdles, as will finding out that some of these new ways take longer than the old ways.

Here are some experiences with Windows 8 Consumer Preview that point up a few of these shortcomings.

For the purposes of trying it out, Windows 8 was downloaded to an HP TouchSmart 520-1070 desktop. The software wouldn't install directly over Windows 7, although it is designed to do so. So it was installed to a disk partition via an ISO image burned to a DVD. That left the partition without the touchscreen driver, which, when downloaded from HP, wouldn't support Windows 8.

That precluded trying to use the touch interface. That issue aside, Windows 8 booted up just fine to a screen that allows a choice between Windows 7 and Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and selecting the latter leads to a screen of a tree in fall foliage against a blue sky and the date and time in large lettering.

Typing Windows Key-C leads to a login screen, then the famous Windows 8 Start screen with 22 live tiles on it. Clicking on the Store tile leads to the Windows Store, a screen that shows a cluster of tiles labeled Spotlight and half a cluster labeled Games.

With touch, swiping from right to left would bring into view more tiles. Without touch, dragging a slide across the bottom of the screen from left to right reveals other clusters: Social, Entertainment, Photos, Music & videos, Books & reference, News & weather, Food & dining, Shopping, Travel, Finance, Productivity, Tools and Security.

Clearly, this would be much smoother with touch. Without, it's not a big change, except the content is arranged horizontally rather than vertically as it would have been in a traditional Windows layout.

(Attempts to download DocStoc Premium failed. It is a business application with templates of common documents such as job performance reviews, nondisclosure agreements and lease agreements. After the failure, the app icon had a link marked: "Why didn't this app install?" Clicking on it yielded this: "Something happened and this app couldn't be installed. Please try again.")

While waiting for that download, returning to the Start screen for more options required running the cursor into the bottom left corner where a mini Start screen pops up. Clicking on it brings up the actual Start screen, and getting to another application requires clicking on it.

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