Windows 8’s Functionality Appeals, But iPad Seduces

I had an opportunity to experiment with Windows 8 last week. It was on a fairly powerful touchscreen desktop PC and not a tablet, but I came away more favorably impressed than I had expected to.

Not everyone agrees. In a column this week, WinSuperSite’s Paul Thurrott expresses disappointment that last weekend’s leak of an early build of Windows 8 Blue, the combination service pack/feature pack that Microsoft intends to release later this year Contains nothing to suggest that the update will allow booting directly to the Desktop. He says that speaks volumes about how Microsoft still sees the touch-centric “Modern” (née ”Metro”) environment as the future of mainstream computing in the wake of what many consider a disastrous Windows 8 launch, lamenting that there are no improvements to the desktop environment or the tenuous connects between the desktop and Modern/Metro in Windows 8, although the general Metro user experience is getting a big-time update, in order to make the system both more fully functional and usable — a maturing of the interface that will make it more acceptable to more users.

Thurrott reports that the leaked Windows 8 Blue build also further removes the need to ever use the legacy Windows desktop with much Control Panel functionality moved from the desktop into Metro — for example, you can access Start screen settings directly from the Start screen. He still wishes for a more desktop-oriented version of Windows 8 that could sit alongside mainstream Windows versions and dispense with what he calls “the touch silliness” on traditional PCs, but acknowledges that its unclear what the size of this market for that sort of functionality is compared to the eventual market for touch-based computing devices, which Microsoft bet with Windows 8, and continues to wager even more decidedly in Blue is the future of computing.

Alas, that’s likely a realistic analysis. As an addicted but abidingly frustrated iPad user, I would gratefully settle for any sort of access to OS X style desktop power features like real multitasking, multiple window viewing, file system accessibility, partial screen captures, a mouse driver, and even one standard USB port.

I detest the garish color scheme of Windows 8’s tiled “Modern” user interface, but then I’ve always thought Windows UIs were plug-ugly. I don’t like the way it works much better than I do the iPhone Home page style Launcher app Apple has insisted on saddling OS X with, but it works OK I guess, and I think I could adjust to living fairly happily with Windows 8. Especially since unlike Paul Thurrott and other Windows veterans, I don’t have any accretion of legacy Windows habits and expectations developed and honed in Windows 7 and XP.

And I do like using Windows 8 — at least based on some concededly limited exposure to the real desktop version — better than I do working with the iOS, which is attractive enough in appearance, but clunky and inefficient for production tasks. The concept of being able to run a full-powered desktop OS on a tablet makes Microsoft’s Surface tablet PC appeal strongly to me, at least in theory. Trying to do actual work with it might be another matter.

However, it couldn’t be worse than trying to get work done with the iOS, although I’ve adapted and developed techniques and workarounds that are considerably less than satisfactory, but do let me do certain types of research and composition on my iPad.

Unfortunately, the trend curve at Apple is not toward offering a tablet that can run OS X, but rather to making OS X look and behave more like the iOS, which I consider regress — not progress. Recent scuttlebutt also predicts that we may be seeing an Apple laptop soon powered by one of Apple’s A-Series ARM based processors rather than having Intel inside. That would enable prodigious battery runtime with power-parsimonious ARM silicon and the size battery that a laptop form factor can house.

What I would hope should that come to pass, is that it would motivate Apple to build more productivity-oriented functionality into the iOS that would cross over to the iPad as well, and also at long last equip an iOS device with a decent array of I/O port connectivity. At the top of my wish list again would be ability to display more than one open application window simultaneously.

So why don’t I just stop griping and dithering and switch to a Microsoft Surface Pro. I can’t say I’m not sorely tempted in many respects, for reasons I’ve just outlined. The Surface Pro positively addresses most of the complaints I have about the iPad’s angularities as a content creation tool. However, unfortunately the Surface Pro is less successful as a tablet, heavier, larger, hotter-running, and with relatively poor battery life. It’s also almost as expensive as a MacBook Air, more expensive than many Windows 8 Ultrabooks, and reportedly not selling well, which makes one wonder if it may eventually go the way of Microsoft’s ill-fated Zune music player.

I remain in thrall of Apple’s hardware quality, reliability, and battery runtime, and appreciate the easy selection of apps available for the iOS. Hopefully Apple can be persuaded to address the iOS’s shortcomings satisfactorily, and keep me on board.

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