Thursday, June 27, 2013

Touching Windows 8


I've recently acquired my first Windows 8 tablet. While I've been working with Windows 8 since the first public beta became available, I've only been able to experience it through the traditional keyboard and mouse interface. When I began toying with the Asus Vivo Tab RT, I was expecting the system handle much the same.  Boy was I wrong.

Using the touch interface in Windows 8 is far from intuitive. Much of the UI is hidden with no obvious way to execute the commands necessary for basic functions like managing tiles or sorting mail.  For nearly every basic action, I've had to look up how to perform the touch-based equivalent.  I'm a staunch supporter of Windows and Windows 8 has really grown on me. Using the systems prior to it make me feel like something is missing, like I'm only using half the OS. But the past few days have been nothing but lesson after lesson as though I'm learning it for the first time.

One thing I've learned and am constantly applying is swiping.  If ever there were an OS for villains of youthful, aspiring adventurers, then Windows 8 is it.  Swipe in from the right to being in the Charms Bar which contains Search, Settings, and many useful abilities. Swipe in from the left to change recently opened applications.  Swipe down on any selected item to bring up another set of options. 

For example, if you want to sort your email into their respective folders, you'll need to select your messages and swipe up to bring up the toolbar which allows you to move the messages to another folder.  In an OS focused on touch, it makes more sense to me to simply allow users to select the message by tapping it and then dragging it where they want it to go.  But who am I to say?  I'm certainly not a developer.  This same practice applies to the "Metro" (Sorry, Microsoft.  We're not calling it anything else.) tiles. Tapping and holding a tile should bring up the options for resizing and then dragging should move.  Instead, you swipe down for the options to resize.  Moving them is even more arduous as users must tap and hold the tile and then very slowly drag it down and then move to where you want it.

These are small complaints overall, but complaints all the same.  It's little wonder that Microsoft's new system has been received so poorly. Until I got this tablet, I didn't realize how truly little I knew about controlling Windows 8.

One shortcoming I was aware of when I bought a Windows RT tablet was the inability to install x86 based (desktop) applications.  Through an overly convoluted plan, I was set on creating regular local copies of my SkyDrive documents on a removable memory card for offline access.  While I still haven't completely nixed those plans, I found a terrific resource that can map SkyDrive as a network drive for access through the file manager.  A huge thanks to Shawn Keene for posting the guide on this.

I still very much enjoy Windows 8 and am exciting to keep learning all the intricate nuances that make it tick. But I have a new level of respect for those complaints against it.

Note: This was typed using the touch interface alone within Windows RT.
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