Thursday, 9 June 2011

Touchy feely Windows might just work

I've been reading about Windows 8 recently, the totally redesigned Windows interface for the next version of the operating system, which owes as much to smartphones and iPads as it does to a traditional WIMP environment.

My first reaction was scepticism. Don't get me wrong - I love the touchy-feely interface on the iPhone and the iPad. When did manipulating things with a mouse last seem enjoyable - which the gesture-based interface does. But surely things are different on the desktop? The enjoyably reactionary IT minds at The Register certainly feel this way. Although they give a lot of coverage to the iPad, they sarcastically refer to it as a 'fondle slab', and so, by extension call Windows 8 'FondleWindows.'

The key phrase from their introduction to Windows 8 is: 'As even the iPad's biggest fans might admit, while it's a terrific viewing device, for office work it's actually a sub-optimal UI, for now. Nothing beats a mouse and a rich UI designed for a mouse.' And I found myself nodding sagely and agreeing with author Andrew Orlowski. But then I had second thoughts.

Anyone remember Minority Report? Weren't those gesture-interface screens cool? And really that's pretty much what happens with an iPad, but on a small scale. So think big. Yes, when it comes to simply piling in text you are going to use a keyboard. But for all the control aspects, working directly with the screen and gestures can be much more effective than anything in a standard WIMP. Part of the problem with Mr Orlowski's view is that it takes a very one-document-at-a-time attitude. When I'm writing a book I usually have seven or eight documents on the go at once. Maybe three Word files, at least as many browser windows and OneNote. Now imagine having all those on a big enough screen that each document appears at least the size of a piece of A4. Flipping content around, zipping from place to place - it is going to work so much better with gestures.

Don't get me wrong - when Windows 8 comes along, we aren't suddenly going to transform the way we interact with the desktop. But just as I've gone from working on a single 13" screen to dual 21" screens, I can imagine in some years time it'll be a massive touch screen, as well as a keyboard and mouse. And FondleWindows could just be the answer to making it a great experience.


  1. Gesture-based computing would be the future, except it's here now, and it's only the next stage. I fully expect that the next edition of OS, whether it'll be called ocelot or bandicoot or pink panther, will have a UI based on thought alone.

  2. The argument, Henry, (which I disagree with) is that it's fine for portable devices, but not the desktop, where on the whole it isn't here yet.