When last we saw the EXO UI–a touch-friendly skin that lives on top of Windows 7–it was the interface for a 11.6″ tablet called the EXOPC Slate. At ViewSonic’s booth at CES 2012, Canada-based EXOPC was showing the software off doing something new: It was running on an expansive 32″ touch screen, looking rather like a rival to Microsoft’s Surface table-top computer.
Unlike Surface, the EXODesk demo didn’t involve a computer built into a display: The screen was hooked up to a Windows 7 PC that was tucked out of the way. The EXO UI looks nothing like stock Windows 7: You navigate by tapping a pop-up cluster of circles.The features I saw at ViewSonic’s booth included practical stuff (a calendar) and fun stuff (a musical keyboard and an air hockey game).
Samsung’s new Surface table is $8,400; EXOPC plans to sell EXODesk units (not including the PC) for just $1,300, in a version aimed at folks who want to develop apps for its user interface. It hopes to roll out a version for the rest of us later this year.
Adding a touch-centric layer on top of Windows 7 has a certain logic to it, since plain-vanilla Windows 7 is only marginally usable on a touch screen. But when Windows 8 shows up later this year, it’ll bring with it Metro, Microsoft’s own touch interface. Metro looks nothing like EXO UI, but I wonder what will happen to EXOPC once it’s competing head-to-head with Microsoft to make Windows touch-friendly. Then again, it’s hard to imagine many 32″ touch screens shipping with Windows 8 PCs from the big manufacturers.