The OEMs have begun their roadshows for Windows 8, and while I can’t talk about specifics I can chat a bit about what you will see and what to look for.
I’ve been using Windows 8 for some time now on a tablet and now have a sense for what works best. Most of the initial wave you’re likely to get will be users bringing in hardware under BYOD. But getting a sense of what will work – and won’t – may help you to advise those users and make better choices with the test gear that the vendors offer.
Windows 8 vs. Windows RT
This is the first version of Windows since Windows NT that supports multiple processors. The Intel version of the product is called Windows 8 and the ARM version is called Windows RT.
For now, Windows RT is mostly on consumer-oriented products and it is positioned against the iPad as a more secure, easier to use and manage, and more cost competitive alternative.
Ideally the RT version is best used as a BYOD device and/or as a front end to Microsoft’s cloud services (Office 365 and Azure). You’re looking for long battery life, light weight and a price lower than iPad.
This class of product has historically been very fragile, particularly in field business work where it is preferred, so give points for durability as this will likely be your biggest near term issue. Size will likely be most ideal around the iPad size or 10 inches.
Don’t think of this as a notebook replacement – it is more a stronger iPad alternative – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Windows 8 will come in a number of configurations from laptops to all-in-ones. It will favor systems that either have touch screens or oversized flat multi-touch touchpads.
This platform is less happy with mouse input and doesn’t like TrackPoints (that little eraser on some notebooks) at all.
There are three configurations where this product will be best showcased. The all-in-one with touch, the oversize touch laptop, and the hybrid tablet. It will work reasonably will with a touchpad if that touchpad is large, supports multi-touch and is flat enough so you can get to the corners (where you’ll bring up command menus).
Notebooks need stiff enough screen hinges to work well and typically work better with touch in the 15 or 16-inch screen size so there is enough weight in the base (you don’t push the notebook over when you touch the screen). My experience so far is that with products like Ultrabooks you may be better with a good touchpad because they are too light to do touch well.
Desktop PCs with Windows 8, particularly with 27” or larger screens, haven’t been working that well with touch (because the screens tend to be set more than comfortable arm’s length from the user). You’ll likely find a large compliant USB Touchpad to be a better, and more cost effective, approach than a touch screen particularly if the user wants to use multiple monitors.
Hybrids are the new class that will showcase Windows 8. They convert from tablet to laptop with the addition of either an attached or separate keyboard.
At 13.3 inches these seem to perform both roles reasonably well, larger and the tablet is just too heavy, and smaller they don’t have enough screen real estate to make a decent laptop alternative. As with the Windows RT tablet you’re going to want to look for durability as these will be held and carried.
Wrapping Up: Surface Tablets
One other class of product that may be worth looking at is the Surface Tablets from Microsoft directly. Like the Nexus line from Google these will represent what Microsoft believes will provide the best Windows 8 experience.
The announced product that stands out from the OEMs is the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet for Windows 8, which seems to embrace every key differentiating element and yet still meets the requirements of a ThinkPad (strong keyboard option, security, and durability).
In the end this really is just the start of a multi-year change to the PC. We’ll likely start seeing some far more creative things next year as the industry adopts to what will likely be seen as the biggest change since Windows 95, except this change will likely be bigger.