These past few weeks I was about to write MS off. It was all negative news, one after the other, it seemed there was no end in sight. But what do you know, Computex is turning out to be a success for the Windows platform for Tablets and Slates. OEMs are now showing next-in-line devices in answer to the iPAD domination, and I tell you this, the fight for the best Tablet is now about to burst loose. You may be surprised which camp will carry the day in the end. Just take a look at the ExoPC and Asus entries, you’ll be surprised what windows tablets are now capable of.
That brings me to the subject matter: Windows 7 and Custom Touch UI’s.
We all know the default Windows 7 interface(or Shell like the geeks would call it) is not made for human fingers, but for Keyboard and Mouse. So how do you guarantee the best experience for Tablet users with Windows 7 as the OS? OEMs are now resulting to building their own Shell on top of Windows 7. Just see how ExoPC, ASUS and MSI implements Touch on their tablets, you will understand what I mean.
Fig.01: ExoPC Tablet
Fig. 02: ASUS Eee PAD (Just look at those connectivities!)
The question then is, is this fragmentation of Touch UI’s on the tablets a good development for the Windows platform? There is no conclusive answer to this question; it is YES and NO.
YES because windows is all about customization, the ability to tailor your work(and play) environment to suite you as an individual. Go look at peoples desktops on Flickr, you’ll be amazed how far people have gone to personalized their desktops. So if we see the same development for the Touch interfaces on the Tablets, it may be the incentive to get people on board. You can go to town and knock yourself out if you are not happy with the default UI delivered by the OEM.
The other answer is NO, fragmentation of UI will lead to what we are now seeing on the Android platform. There is no identifiable structure to the UI, which means experience on one platform cannot be transferred to the next. For an established paradigm as a OS desktop, this is no more a problem, but for an emerging platform as a Tablet computing, it will encourage adoption to have a consistent interface. A device can only be called a success when the masses adopts it, not only when the Geeks of this world adopts it. Apple has an advantage in this case because it is a singularity as far as User Experience is concerned. It has the monopoly of hardware and software.
The solution that I propose then is that Microsoft creates a Shell for Windows 7; specifically for Touch Tablets. Kind of what Courier would have been, but then installable on top the OS. I am suspecting this would not be a big thing to achieve for MS, especially now that it is so easy to create dazzling UI with Windows WPF, and Windows Explorer is no more buried deep into the OS kernel. You can kill Explorer.exe in Taskmanager, and Windows 7 will still be running perfectly.
Those of us that live and die in Tablets before the conception iPAD will remember something Microsoft did to "Windows XP Tablet Edition". I am talking of the TC1100 time-frame and the Origami devices that came after it. The Origami devices are(were) touch devices, but XP was not touch enabled, so MS created a Touch package "Origami Experience" for XP and for Vista that came after it. The last version of this package (version 2.0) was so Touch-user-friendly that I was hoping MS would develop it further to replace Windows Explorer on these touch devices. Retrospectively, you could install the Touch package on an old non-touch devices like the TC1100 and the netvertibles.
Right now, I only have three TC1100s in my home, which are non-Touch enabled Windows devices, so I cannot test my suspicion. But I am betting that the Origami Experience would run successfully on Windows 7 (I’ve got all my TC1100s installed with Win7) if Windows 7 is installed on those Origami devices and the package installed on top of it. I would love to hear your experience with Origami Experience on Windows 7 if your Origami (or UMPCs as they are also called) is touch-enabled. If any of you have installed the Touch-package on your Origami device, let me know what is your experience. I am definitely using this as my default shell when I get a WinPAD (Windows PAD/Tablet) at the end of this year, I am not going to use the Adobe-Air shells created by the OEMs because I suspect they will be resource hogs.
In conclusion, MS will not be doing something new by creating a Touch Package for these slick "PAD" devices coming at the end of this year. If MS want to deal a death-blow to iPAD, all it needs to do is create a WPF Shell on top of Windows 7, and create a Marketplace for this new Touch Shell. It will blow iPADs from the waters. This for a single reason: The shell is running on a full OS, i.e. all your desktop application works! just imagine that, no Flash issues, no full desktop-productivity issues. The new ASUS Eee PAD runs full 10Hrs on a single charge, and it is a full CPU not an ATOM; I tell you people, you can’t beat that; not in a thousand years!
So, WAKE-UP Microsoft! Go ahead and dazzle our Windows Tablets!