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back to article Windows RT still haunted by the ghost of Microsoft's 2001 tablet fiasco

Microsoft's Windows is coming to tablets again, showing that a fondleslab can do anything a laptop can. Yet not all Windows tablets are equal, and Microsoft is relying on our ongoing obsession with physical keyboards to ensure that Windows RT remains secondary to the flagship full-fat Windows 8 operating system. It's not the …

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The people were the problem

The products were good for their time, the TC1100 especially. It's just that the people didn't understand nor believe they wanted one back then. It's like how it took Sky+ to make everyone realise that in fact they *did* want that Tivo thing when they were buying DVD-R machines to record Eastenders on.

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Meh

Re: The people were the problem

The TC1100 was extremely usable. It even had a pitch that worked on a crappy airline/train seat. I never quite got an acceptable Linux build to work yhough

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Re: The people were the problem

But that is a problem faced by every product that tries to bring something new to the market: what people understand. Figuring out the right way to sell the product can be at least as important as developing the idea into something on a store shelf. 'Build it and they will come' really only works for the RealDoll.

A big part of the problem for past Windows tablets was that they only built the foundation, with the rest of the building expected to be put together by the tenants. Outside of OneNote there was hardly any good tablet software for the wider market. Vertical apps weren't much help in reaching consumers.

This is a big part of why Microsoft is doing their own hardware this time around. They cannot rely on OEMs and ISVs to pick up the ball and run with it, just because Microsoft has made a nice ball to play with. They have to be out there, too.

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Re: The people were the problem

I loved my compaq TC1100, made a great device for taking notes in minutes. viewing presentations or casual web browsing. Even as late as 2009 people were asking if it was a new device.

Did anybody notice the shape a rectangle with rounded off corners.

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Re: The people were the problem

"It's just that the people didn't understand nor believe they wanted one back then."

I have a problem with that statement. It may be perfectly true, but it gives me an icky marketing feeling.

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Re: Did anybody notice the shape a rectangle with rounded off corners.

Don't give those ID10Ts in Cupertino any more ideas on who else they should sue.

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What??

Oh, this is completely backwards. So Windows on a tablet was the next big thing but Microsoft couldn't convince people of that? Sorry, I was there, and Windows on a touch screen was an incredibly frustrating, brain-dead, crappy idea. We currently own a Windows 7 "touch edition" tablet and it isn't any better.

I haven't seen Windows 8 yet. But Microsoft's idea of a "touch" interface up to 7 was simply rebranding the accessibility tools that have been there since Windows 95. A on-screen keyboard that pops up in a random place, usually covering up the text box you're trying to fill. Odd squiggly motions designed to emulate the actions of a three button mouse. It was crap. Microsoft had no understanding of how to build a touch interface -- they thought it means providing touch alternatives to standard Windows KVM actions. It was a nightmare, other than in very specialized environments where you spend all of your time in a true touch-enabled application. You first had to get the OS out of the way in order to get anything done.

People put keyboards and mice on Microsoft tablets because they *had* to, in order to get *work* done, not due to some psychotic clinging to the input methods of yore.

Will Windows 8 really be different? Maybe. But Microsoft still seems to be trying to wedge the same gooey paradigm into every environments, this time going the other way, making a phone interface work on tablets and PCs. For this reason we may upgrade our useless Windows 7 fondleslab to Windows 8, but none of our other machines will see 8. For a regular PC, 7 is good enough, and 8 looks like a fiasco.

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Re: What?? (Psst, I think you have a typo!)

Here is the corrected sentence:

But Microsoft still seems to be trying to wedge the same gooeygoofy paradigm into every environments, this time going the other way, making a phone interface work on tablets and PCs.

Now there, I think it is fixed.

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The Toshiba one I supported for a while certainly wasn't an adequate example of ... anything, really. It ended up a lousy, heavy, bulky laptop with an extra screen hinge (for rotation to table mode) that was never used, an on-screen keyboard that wasn't really usable.

That particular one, I can't understand why our IT department ordered in the first place - the user requirement was for an ultraportable laptop, no mention of anything tablet related at all! End result: it was a crummy laptop with some extra bulk and "features" nobody wanted or used.

More broadly, though, there wasn't much point. Even with a few things bolted on to make Windows itself just about usable in tablet mode, the Windows applications were all designed for a mouse and keyboard: I would never have considered using Word or Excel on that thing with the on-screen keyboard and a stylus!

If Microsoft get Windows Metro^WCopro apps written for tablets, they might be on to something - or it'll be "ooh, what a nice lightweight laptop this Surface thing is", which is pretty much how I'd regard it if I had one. As a tablet, I'd mostly want e-mail and web browsing - two things Microsoft have been terrible at for years - and maybe a mobile "app" or two, which of course they haven't got yet because all the developers are targetting iOS and Android.

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"I can't understand why our IT department ordered in the first place"

"Has anyone asked for a slate computer yet? I really want to play with one".

"This guy needs a new laptop, something really portable it says here".

"Not a slate?".

"No, but Toshiba do this one that converts from slate to laptop, that's got to be fairly compact so we say it's the most portable laptop that we can find. He gets his 'puter, you get to play with a slate".

"What's the spec like?"

"Who cares?"

"Good point, pass me the order form".

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MIc
Facepalm

Has the author used one?

Sounds like the author has one and is speaking from a place of authority on the subject...

or maybe its just conjecture.

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Re: Has the author used one?

Was wondering myself. I've been using tablet PCs since 2005. Managing Windows using a stylus does indeed suck like a swamp donkey in the Kalahari, but OneNote was (still is) the killer app for meetings, note-taking (Evernote smokes monkey pole in comparison), and doing diagrams when there aren't any whiteboards around.

They're very handy in my job/experience. But they ain't gonna catapult no birds at pigs, y'all.

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FAIL

The full-fat Windows 8 operating system is too ugly

On a desktop with a 24 inch monitor Windows 8 is hideous.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The full-fat Windows 8 operating system is too ugly

Thank you for your post. Now if you want to go and comment about 8 on desktop it's over there>>>>>

In the meantime, this article was about tablets, which, oddly enough 8 IS suited for.

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Re: The full-fat Windows 8 operating system is too ugly

I'm running it on dual 24" screens to do development on, and it's great. My machine dual boots to my old W7 install. I haven't booted to W7 in months.

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Anonymous Coward

A timely reminder

that having Windows desktop applications available on a tablet is not the same as being able to use them.

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FAIL

Tablets?

Tablets? Aren't those something that you get from a bottle and swallow when your head

starts hurting from trying to use a computer with no keyboard?

Tablets are just a reimplementation of pen-computing, which has a long, and unsuccessful history.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_computing

I had (and, still have, somewhere) an IBM Thinkpad 360P, vintage 1993 or so, which

implemented a touch screen interface, along with hinges so that it could be folded into a

tablet configuration (a very thick tablet, but a tablet nevertheless). And, I actually used

the touch screen display....twice, before going back to using the keyboard in a conventional

laptop configuration (Yes, twice. I had to give it a fair chance, didn't I?).

So, will they ever get it correct? Tablets might be ok for applications which only require you

to push two or three buttons, but for applications which require you to enter textual data, I

want a real keyboard. No, not an area on the display that brings up tiny little letters that

you can touch with the tip of your fat finger; I want REAL keys, keys that click when you

press them, keys that let your fingers do touch typing (not "touch" typing). So, will any

manufacturer ever get this through their head? Or, will they insist on making glorified

"game playing" systems?

Dave

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Meh

Re: Tablets?

Oh dear. You haven't actually used a modern tablet at all, have you?

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Back in 2001 the tablet had its uses, I remember a friend of mine using one for market research as it was easy to give the intervewee the tablet and just take it from there. However there was no real killer function that would really sell the tablet into the business and consumer markets, apart from a few speciast niches. Back then internet was expensive, even through dail up, let alone GPRS, so the killer function, the internet, was cost prohibitive.

Fast forward to 2010 when the iPad was released and the internet was ubiquitous and cheap. Boom killer function easily and cheaply obtainable together with the advantages that tech progress had made in the intervening years.

This is now the latter end of 2012 and it's only now that Microsoft have come up with a tablet. They've missed the boat IMO, unless windows 8 really can deliver something that Android and iOS can't it's going to be a fail IMO.

There's a Windows 8 event happening in my neck of the woods today and tomorrow, and im going to try and get a look at a slate, but from what I've read around the blogosphere it's unlikely that I'll be putting my iPad up on eBay for the foreseeable future.

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Not a laptop

> Surface laptop-cum-tablets

It may have a foldout out keyboard but Surface is not a laptop. It may be possible to balance it on one's lap briefly but it won't be usable there. The screen will be fixed at an angle too upright. The weight balance is wrong. The keyboard junction is floppy. The edge is too sharp and will become uncomfortable. Any attempt at swiping the screen will result in disaster.

Also it is unlikely to be usable on an aircraft table, mainly because the screen would need to be more vertical than the stand, or balance, would allow and the keyboard will not provide support.

Actual reviews (rather than puffery items) support this view.

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Clip-on, not foldout

Microsoft Surface devices do not come with a keyboard. It's a costly extra, costing far more in fact than the proper keyswitch keyboard that I'm typing this on, for a crappy near-no-travel membrane design. The keyboard prices are 20-25% of the price of the tablet itself.

The main reason Microsoft are doing the Surface, though, is that they could not rely on their OEMs to actually build tablet-only devices at reasonable prices. Nearly all previous 'Tablet PCs' were convertibles, after the initial batch of slates failed in the market. Remember that Tablet PC originally required active-stylus input, not touch screen - touch support, and particularly multi-touch, came much, much later - and they were designed for handwriting input.

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Entirely different situation

The big problem with past versions of Windows as a tablet OS was the policy of not making software developers be aware of and incorporate support of the touch/pen user. The pen/touch support was an extension of the UI, not a standalone environment like Metro with all-new software.

Using Windows 8 is a hugely different experience from using previous generations of Windows on a tablet or convertible laptop like my old Compaq that I inherited when the owner moved on to a different model. While a software designer could do apps specifically for a vertical market where high pen usability was required, this didn't matter much to the bulk of applications in the market. Except for the rare item like OneNote (which showed what could really be done and was the killer app for Windows pen enthusiasts) most of time this meant you were made to feel like a handicapped person operating through a special needs interface.

With Windows 8 it's all different. Along with far better hardware, especially now that we have affordable SSD and don't feel the need to have an optical drive on-board, a convertible laptop can be highly usable as both a touch oriented device and a conventional keyboard/pointer machine. What is really needed to fill the gap is some lightweight versions of the Office apps for Metro. Versions focused on the stuff you're likely to do while standing or only able to do touch input, while the full complex feature set is left to the desktop apps when you have a chance to sit down at a table and have some elbow room.

Microsoft has long supplied free viewer apps for the Office file types. Some Metro apps of that sort with light editing capability would be a big help for moving between usage modes. It would also avoid the power draw of the big apps since you're likely to be on battery if you're in tablet mode.

This seems entirely doable to me. I'd have never have bought the Compaq convertible I have but having the use of it has taught me a great deal about what works and what doesn't. Windows 8 convertibles can work and very well, given the right touch apps to supplement the heavy duty desktop apps.

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Re: Entirely different situation

Since I AM a handicapped person operating through a special needs interface (typing wrecked my hands), touch is useful. Speech recognition could be better, but it demands processing power and RAM. Mostly I use a stylus and the "Fitaly" on-screen keyboard program, but I don't know if it'll work with Windows 8, and the company may not be able to produce a conversion.

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Anonymous Coward

Hardware was more power hungry back then, the OS wasn't touch optimised and they weren't flirting with ARM. It was uncharted territory and that's why it was hard to get everyone on-side to change the software.

The keyboard is optional, but many people add a flap style case and this has a keyboard on it too, so it's useful.

I think it will do pretty well, especially in business.

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> I think it will do pretty well, especially in business.

Surface RT has several problems for businesses. While it has Office RT (a cut down version), they would have to pay extra for a licence to use it for commercial purposes. The only software available is that in Microsoft's app store and no existing Windows apps, such as bespoke or inhouse applications would ever run. While businesses could completely rewrite all their inhouse stuff (and hope that software houses would redevelop) they could do this for Android or iPad or redeveleop for web-based systems that would run on anything. If they wanted to side-load their own apps they would have to get a special server to run their own repository.

It may also be that they had WM6.x phones and were screwed when MS dumped that and replaced it with the less business friendly WP7, which was also dumped on. Most businesses have probably gone to iPhone or Android and will stick with those for tablets.

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xyz

> Hardware was more power hungry back then, the OS wasn't touch optimised ...

I seem to remember sitting on the train in the mornings browsing the web and doing my mail on my iPaq taped to my Nokia 8850 and using my finger as the input device. If only I'd thought "mmmm, if I put these 2 things in one case, I might be able to sell them." It all worked fine running Win BC or whetever it was called, no 3G and via an infrared port...ahh, the dark ages.

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Hm, I must be a very peculiar case, given I use my transformer as both a laptop and a tablet. I do a lot of reading and a lot of writing and it's great for both roles.

Good on the plane too. Lasted all the way from Florence on a single charge. Very handy.

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bep

Bingo!

Someone like me, who has actually used a hybird device and realises what matters, i.e. hardware, software and battery life. The transformers involve compromises like all portable devices but the transformer compromise works for me. You do use it as a laptop when that is required, and you do you use it as a tablet when that is more convenient. I'm not sure about MS's new products, but comparing them to old products that had neither the hardware nor the software right is pretty superficial reporting.

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Likewise

Same here, mine is my main portable device and a very nice job it does too. Battery life without the keyboard dock is at least a full working day, with it's even longer than that. Access to the office VPN works on Android so I just use remote desktop if I need something I don't have either web access to or an app for.

The hybrid devices are great if you have realistic expectations, are as portable as a netbook but with much longer battery life and greater versatility.

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FAIL

Gathering dust?

Don't know where the author got the idea that "most" Transformer keyboards are gathering dust in a drawer somewhere!

I know that I use mine regularly, and so does everyone I know who has a TF (though admittedly that's a fairly small group).

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LDS
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Was the iPad haunted by the Newton? No, so why Surface should be haunted by tablets PCs?

Was the iPad haunted by the Newfon fiasco? No, it was a different device and most people forgot about the Newton. Surface has very little resembrance of a tablet PCs, and most tablets user never used a tablet PC, and probably forgot about them too. Surface success or fiasco will only depend on its quality, applications and price. Fiascos can teach a lot - if you can learn.

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Re: Was the iPad haunted by the Newton? No, so why Surface should be haunted by tablets PCs?

The main problem with the Newton was that it was expensive. On a casual cost/benefit evaluation it failed to be useful enough. While the iPad was still not cheap it benefited from the previous experience of the iPod and iPhone. This meant that when the iPad arrived there were millions of users that were familiar with its UI and there were plenty of apps and developers.

The precursors of Surface were slate and tablet PC which were both too expensive and compromised far too much by OS and software unsuited to touch or stylus input. Basically the software required mouse and keyboard and the extra cost of a slate was a complete waste except in specific usage areas.

But the failure of slate can be ignored because the real precursor of Surface is WP7. This arrived by killing off WP6.5 stone dead and thus was a completely different product with no developers and no apps and a completely new UI. It failed to gain traction and was killed stone dead by announcement that there would be no upgrade to WP8.

Now with Surface RT it can't run the software that failed to work on slate, or indeed anything useful from desktop Windows (except a cut down Office). It can run (converted) WP7 apps, except those that need phone, SMS, GPS, compass, or just about everything else that makes a phone useful. Camera and photo apps will also be a waste of time because the web cams on Surface RT are rated by reviewers as 'useless'.

Surface Pro, however, will be haunted by tablets PCs as users try to run their existing Windows desktop software. Surface Pro will also be more expensive than the RT versions and will also be haunted by the higher cost (compared to a laptop) that prevented slate and tablet PCs being used as laptops with extra features.

I also suspect that new Windows 8 machines and Surface will be haunted by "that was the UI that I didn't want on my phone when I bought an Android".

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Stop

Two sides to every surface...

Quite a few people have mentioned that Microsoft couldn't build a touchscreen interface. Part of the issue is that back in 2001 - they didn't have to. If you wanted a computer, you bought windows. Mac's were still like a special child - you didn't really say bad things about them, but you didn't really want one either. So Microsoft could make a half-arsed attempt at a touch interface, safe in the knowledge that no-one else had the market share to be able to pull customers if they did it better.

Now, Microsoft *has* to build a decent touch interface - apple are clawing back market share hand over fist, and the portable computing, storefront fashion is a "tablet" that co-workers and clients can see and use.

Microsoft made a big deal about that hinge on the back - and it's ridiculous that a little piece of plastic is given so much time - but in a way, it's that hinge that determines a lot of the success or failure. Part of the reason previous tablets failed was because they had the physical clumsiness of a laptop and the difficulty of manipulating a half-arsed touch interface. The simple stand puts the surface safely in the "it really is a tablet" camp, the keyboard skin reinforces that fact. It no longer looks like a tablet with a laptop hanging off it, which goes along way to eliminating the form-factor issues of older tablet PC's.

Having said that.... Every time I look at it I alternate between "those are some good new ideas, I can see it working" and "why bother? any compromise will still be seen as a compromise, it won't work".

At the very least they seem to show a better understanding of the market than they have previously, but ironically the Apple iPad is now commonly perceived to be the "safe" option (your company will either be perceived as "cool" or "keeping up with everyone else" - but there probably won't be much negative reaction*), whereas the (usually tried and trusted) Microsoft product is more of an alternative risk-taker in the segment...

*At the moment - the problem with being the flavour of the month is that eventually the month ends...

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Coat

Also,

will the HandyKey be haunted by the ghost of Qinkey [http://www.naec.org.uk/artefacts/hardware/quinkey]? Or am I the only one that still remembers them?

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Childcatcher

Re: Also,

I hadn't heard of either, but I think HandKey ought to win the fight based on the name of its product: The Twiddler. I now have to figure out how to get my job to pay for one of these.

Even with that said, I would think MS should be looking to leapfrog Apple completely, opting instead for a completely "natural" approach to computer interfaces. If they buy up - their usual MO - Nuance (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) and shrink the Kinect down, they could up their game a lot. Get rid of the tablet form factor and go for something on wheels with a built in micro projector and release it in 5 years for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars so they could call it R2D2, and they might just have a winner.

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Trollface

Re: Also,

"Get rid of the tablet form factor and go for something on wheels with a built in micro projector and release it in 5 years for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars so they could call it R2D2"

Apple will promptly launch the C-3PO, complete with know it all smugness and implied camp factor

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Our head teacher...

Used a hybrid tablet for around 8 years (well, different ones, as we upgraded). He swore by them, as he could scribble notes down in meetings if needed, or he could dock it with its keyboard and start typing up an Ofsted report.

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'When the Asus Transformer was launched, an Android tablet with detachable keyboard, people labelled it a laptop replacement, but in fact most Transformer keyboards are collecting dust in drawers these days, their touchscreens smudged by fingertips and their owners using laptops for professional work'

Wrong, I have recently purchased a Transformer TF300, and I'm surprised how easily it has replaced my laptop. I have been laptop (and therefore Microsoft) free for 3 weeks now, and I have to say I don't miss it in the slightest. I have an office suite on there, the Transformer keyboard is pretty damn good for typing, and get the tablet and keyboard for the same price as a Surface tablet without keyboard.

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That's good to know. The only thing... the *only* thing... that's keeping me from getting one and giving up Microsoft is that Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, tools I use regularly in the field, have not yet been ported to Android. Everything else I need has become available.

The MOMENT Adobe does this, I'm leaving Microsoft behind.

(The iPad doesn't count, as it's engineered to make it very difficult to get media from a non-Apple device in and out of the tablet.)

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Wrong, I have recently purchased a Transformer TF300, and I'm surprised how easily it has replaced my laptop.

Anecdote doesn't constitute proof - but at least you offer an anecdote. Did Ray provide any evidence for any of his assertions in the article? If so, I must have missed them.

Perhaps it's true that "when a device has a keyboard attached to it punters will use it as a laptop", but I'd like to see some actual statistics, from actual (and methodologically-sound) research, before I accept that as anything more than a wild-assed guess. And perhaps it's true that "most Transformer keyboards are collecting dust in drawers these days" - though doesn't that rather contradict the first claim? - but again, I'd like to have more than just Ray's word for it. Maybe you're the exception, or maybe lots of Transformer owners use their keyboards on a regular basis.

Certainly the idea that Surface is a clever plot by Microsoft to make people hate tablets with add-on keyboards ("Microsoft reckons buyers will snap up RT-powered Surface slabs to replace laptops - and later miss the depth of a real keyboard and the familiar clamshell form factor of a laptop") rather strains credulity.

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Patience.

You will get your wish.

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Weight and thinness

You can hold a tablet in one hand to read it because it is thin enough and light enough.

The current windows 8 laptops with rotating or sliding screens are too heavy and thick to do this. Only when they are thin enough and light enough to hold and read with a single hand will there be much point to touchscreen folding laptops.

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it seems like

if the surface fails, then the iPad fails with it.

angry birds et. al. (i.e. hipster toys) is not a long term model.

it seems like the novelty has already worn off (zynga shares), and we either embrace the form factor properly or the whole thing sinks. 2001 was probably a bit early (not enough processing nor UI refinement), but 10 years on, i'm not sure the iPad really brings anything to the table. As such if the MS version doesn't work, both will go the way of the dodo.

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WTF?

The problem with all of these touch devices is that they are great for certain things, but incredibly clumsy and useless at other things. By other things I mean the type of work that 95% of people actually need to do on a daily basis. Call me a primitive caveman, but quite often even a mouse gets in the way and it's much faster to do things by keeping your hands on the keyboard and remembering short cuts, unless you're the type that can only type with one or two fingers at the same time and needs to hunt for the keys.

A touch screen on a computer does not bring anything revolutionary for the ordinary office worker, apart from having to clean the dirty smudges off at the end of each day. Some companies get this. Microsoft, on the other hand, noticed that people enjoy this touch-screen malarkey and have decided to herald it as the new era for their operating system.

It would be nice to see somebody attempt to create a new UI style that isn't just a copy of the Xerox GUI and which brings some real improvements to how we interact with computers in terms of productivity and ease of use. A touch screen interface does not make 95% of us more productive. It's easier for people that don't understand the difference between bits and bytes, but even they quickly realise that typing more than two sentences on a touch screen, or a tablet keyboard with shallow key depth, sucks monkey balls.

A desktop, or a laptop, does not require a touch interface.. It's an ergonomic nightmare, but companies have become enamoured by it. It all reminds me of the new Samsung TVs with the stupid voice and gesture recognition control. WTF is the point when you can still switch channels or change the volume quicker by pressing a button. That's not innovation. That's just moving sideways in order to release "new" products with "new" features in the absence of real innovation.

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Anonymous Coward

GRR ARGH

"But Microsoft can't afford for Surface, or any Windows RT device, to go the same way - not least because its Office suite will be bundled and sold with the machines."

I wish people would be less economical with the wossname here- it isn't really, as the license is for "non-commercial" use only.. Which is total bollocks, if you've just spent 600 quid on a fairly mediocre locked-down tablet with a rather cool keyboard cover.

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FAIL

Tablets

Apart from a few niche areas I've yet to see a business case for tablets that really adds up. For the vast majority of boggo office workers and execs laptops make for better tools. As for email well they've already got Blackberries and other phones can cover that too. Why the need for iPhone / BB, tablet, laptop AND desktop?

Apart from executive willy waving.

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Re: Tablets

I see a lot of comments like this. Try it. You'll like it.

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I see the Asus 10" Atom tablet as ideal. A laptop with a full version of Matlab and TeXworks (and not a locked app store full of useless skeuomorphised desk calculators, burn in hell Apple) for class, and a 500g slate I can watch movies on and read webpages with on the train.

At $599 incl keyboard dock the price is right.

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Black Helicopters

" It all reminds me of the new Samsung TVs with the stupid voice and gesture recognition control. WTF is the point when you can still switch channels or change the volume quicker by pressing a button"

Gestures aren't the point at all. How else are you going to get punters to pay for putting the NSA's surveillance cameras into a television?

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Dont foerget the

Don't omit the GRiD Convertible/AST PenExec ca 1994 or so.. I worked on that at AST Reseach. Overpriced and did not sell well. Still have a prototype test unit I bought as scrap when the factory in Fountain valley CA closed down*. Might even work. Windows 3 for Pen, IIRC. Did not manage to snaffle the color version, darn it.

*This was the factory where AST had been received a Presidential Award presented by then VP Al Gore.

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