Considering how much Microsoft has riding on the successful introduction of Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet, the launch event on Oct. 25 was almost laid back.
Various Microsoft executives came out to talk about the new products, explained their use and conducted extensive show-and-tell sessions. In the process, they demonstrated how Windows 8 works on legacy and new computers as well as how it performs on tablets.
What wasn’t obvious from the surprisingly calm atmosphere at the launch event was that Microsoft is essentially betting the company on the success of the many forms of Windows 8. While a failure of Windows 8 probably wouldn’t cause Microsoft to close its doors, it would have a catastrophic impact on the company’s future profitability and growth. But there was none of the frenetic energy of, say, the typical Apple launch.
This isn’t to suggest there weren’t plenty of superlatives flying around. “These are the best PCs ever made,” was said several times. Some of the other comments heard from Microsoft executives were that the Surface kickstand has the feel of opening and closing the door of a high-end car. The Surface as a moment of inertia that’s low enough that it feels much lighter than its pound and a half. The magnesium case feels and looks like a fine watch.
A lot of emphasis was placed on the quality of the Surface’s construction. Apparently it can be dropped from great heights without damage. One Microsoft engineer glued skateboard wheels on the tablet and went skateboarding with it. That’s something you can’t do with an iPad. Actually, you can’t drop an iPad from any significant height either—I know—I’ve got kids with iPads.
But mostly the Surface introduction was about Windows 8. You could see that the Windows 8 interface was clearly intended for a touch-screen device. Touch the screen with one thumb and a row of what Microsoft is calling “charms” shows up. Then you can invoke a search or run the Control Panel. Touch the other side with your thumb and you can scroll through the installed apps on the device.
Microsoft also went to great lengths to show something else the Surface can do that the iPad can’t really pull off. You can split the screen and have two apps running. Windows continues to be fully multitasking. This is more than just playing music while you type. This is two apps operating normally, side by side. Other apps can operate in the background or within tiles. You can, if you wish, open several and then try to find your way through all of the Windows.
Surface, Windows 8 Debut as Big Stakes Product Launches for Microsoft
As you already know by now, Windows 8 starts up by running a tiled interface. It doesn’t look anything at all like the familiar desktop. Instead your apps are on tiles and you can scroll the windows to find them. But the old Windows 7 desktop is still there.
All you have to do is click on the “Desktop” tile, and it pops into existence. This is handy because Windows 8 runs Windows 7 applications as well as those meant for Windows 8. You can launch either type of app from either interface, but some users might find it easier to relate to the original desktop.
But the new tiled interface is very attractive. As I write this, I have three machines running Windows 8 in the final update of the Release Preview. One copy is running on a machine I bought in August for exactly this purpose. Tomorrow I’ll take advantage of the upgrade coupon and get the released version of Windows 8 for about $15. I’m looking forward to it.
The fact is that as I use Windows 8, I find myself using the tiled interface more and more—and the desktop less and less. It’s clear that a mouse and keyboard aren’t the ideal choice for Windows 8, but they work well enough. In addition, I’ve added a Logitech Wireless Touchpad which makes using Windows 8 almost seamless.
Of course, where Windows 8 really shines is when you can touch the screen. Right now, touchscreen monitors are pretty rare in most offices, but they don’t have to be. A quick check of Amazon.com shows that there is a wide selection for rational prices (meaning not much different than non-touch monitors). The tiled interface on Windows 8 really shines in the touch environment and with applications written for touch.
Unfortunately, most Windows 7 applications aren’t intended for touchscreens, so you’ll need some kind of pointer that works for them. But when you can move to a touch environment, Windows 8 will feel completely natural, perhaps more natural than the icon-based interface from Apple.
Ultimately, though, a tablet is where Windows 8 really needs to be used and there are plenty of those. Microsoft’s Surface is just one of about a dozen Windows 8 tablets that were shown at the launch. Some of those run Windows 8 Pro and some run RT, but both work the same way if you’re a user. The way they work is highly intuitive once you realize just how easy to use the new Windows 8 really is.