Technologizer

Is It Even Possible to Make Windows Work Well On a Tablet?

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Rumor has it that Steven Sinofsky–the guy who runs Windows for Microsoft–will show off the next version of Windows at the Wall Street Journal’s “D” conference next week. (I used that possibility as an excuse to write about the Windows 8 I’d like to see for this week’s Technologizer column over on TIME.com.)

Sinofsky will supposedly show Windows 8’s tablet-related features at the conference. If so, any feelings of deja vu will be understandable: at the 2008 version of D, Steve Ballmer presided over a demo of the touch features of Windows 7, in the first serious peek Microsoft provided at that Windows upgrade.

Windows 7’s touch features didn’t turn out to be that big a deal–most Windows PCs still don’t have touch, and the best touch-enabled systems on the market, HP’s TouchSmarts, are good because HP has put a lot of effort into building its own touch interface.

Microsoft has been demoing tablet-and-touch-oriented versions of Windows for eons now. There were UMPCs. And Tablet PCs. And Windows for Pen Computing.  All launched with plenty of hype and great expectations; all flopped.

After watching Microsoft try to make PCs that use fingers and/or a stylus for input make sense for a couple of decades, I’ve come to a conclusion that doesn’t feel impulsive and premature: The basics of the Windows interface are at odds with the whole idea. Windows wants a physical keyboard and a mouse or equivalent pointing device. Any attempt to eliminate or dramatically downgrade those input devices is like trying to add a steering wheel to a horse. Or something like that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the one version of Windows that uses touch to excellent effect is Windows Phone 7–a version of Windows that’s Windows in name only. It dispenses with all the standard Windows interface items, such as…well, windows. And it replaces them with something that’s far more fingertip friendly. So I’m still not clear on why Microsoft isn’t readying a version of WP7 that’s meant for tablets. (Maybe it is, and just isn’t ready to talk about it yet.)

I’m going to be following the news from “D” eagerly, and if Sinofsky demos a Windows that’s somehow morphed into a solid platform for a tablet, I’ll cheerfully chow down on my own words. For now, though, what I want most out of Windows 8 is for it to be the best possible operating system for PCs–the unapologetically traditional kind with keyboards, mice or touchpads, and a notable absence of touch input.

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