Microsoft Windows™ Support ... and More!
The Tablet PC in the Work Environment
Slightly delayed - yes, I know; this was something I was going to discuss weeks ago but between Windows 8 and a few other things, it got put off a bit. Sorry about that. Anyway ...
First off, I have to admit that I'm using my tablet in a slightly "hands-off" mode on my corporate network. If it were up to me, I'd join it to the domain and really go to town, but that's not permitted. I work in the health care industry and we have to abide by the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) - it's the "Accountability" that causes issues for us since this law and the follow-on HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act require that we go to extraordinary lengths to keep medical and financial information on our network sacrosanct. Not that I disagree with that - since I'm a customer of my own facility my information is in there too - but sometimes it forces us to use less-direct but more-secure means of interfacing with the corporate network. For example, non-corporate computers may only access the corporate network through a VPN abstraction layer that isolates the corporate network from the accessing device. So with that proviso in mind ...
Of late, we have started a major project which will upgrade one of our divisions to a newer, more modern computer system. This will involve the receipt of a large number of computers, monitors, laptops, printers, terminal devices and other associated hardware. We need to be able to track each item from time of receipt to delivery to the customer, including being able to assign various attributes (IP addresses, location names, print queue names, and so on) as each piece of software moves through the stages from receipt to delivery. For this purpose the tablet has been an invaluable tool - I take it with me and as the equipment is unloaded from the shipping pallets I put identification stickers on each piece of equipment and enter that data into a spreadsheet. Then as we configure and customize each piece of equipment its status can be quickly updated in the appropriate page of the spreadsheet, until it's delivered and that is noted in the tracking spreadsheet.
I have also been using my tablet for a lot of note-taking. As I go to various areas and work on this project, I sometimes note something that isn't done or not done correctly. A quick hand-written note in the Tablet app, later converted to text and pulled into OneNote, lets me communicate this information to my boss and others working on the project so that the issue can be corrected appropriately and feedback routed back to me. I can also take notes from other meetings and file them either in OneNote, or in another form in my personal file archives.
One of the major advantages to the Windows 7 tablet is that it is able to work natively with Microsoft Office documents. Since this is our corporate standard software I reliably need to be able to both create and revise documents that will pass through others' computers and be further processed and refined before being finalized and sent on to their eventual destination. Non-Windows tablets can often view or edit such documents in a limited fashion but that's not good enough for me. I need to be fully compatible with my co-workers and that requires native Office support. With Windows 7 that's assured for me.
The tablet also works very well as a sharing and visualization tool during meetings. I can load a Visio diagram, or a graphic or photograph, pass it around the meeting, and everyone present can see what I see and if necessary, annotate or modify the presentation. I can then save the modified diagram or drawing as part of the meeting minutes or send it to everyone present as a further discussion and analysis tool.
Finally, on a slightly more personal note, there are the occasional times where there's some 'dowtnime' - waiting for a process to complete, or a program to finish a test run, or a few minutes between meetings or activities. Having some music handy to pass the time is always a welcome diversion, and there's even the possibility of loading some video (work-related, of course; educational materials and such!) that is available for viewing and reviewing when a bit of time presents itself.
Windows 8 Preview Available! [Part 2 - Hands-On]
Well, it's been about ten days since I started working with Windows 8 on my Acer tablet - I can only say that I'm even more impressed with Windows 8 now than I was when I first started using it. In short, the Metro interface is both easy to use and powerful, and the underlying Windows 7-style desktop allows Windows 8 to remain compatible with the non-Metro software that everyone will be using and that will still be the most widely available choice at launch time.
The experience isn't quite as compelling on a laptop or netbook - I've installed it on both. Oh, it works okay but there are some enhancements that aren't working now that I expect will be as we get further along in the development cycle - for example, both my netbook and notebook have mouse touch-pads that can simulate touch surfaces in Windows 7 (both support dual-touch gestures, panning and zooming, and so on) but neither one is functional in the Developer's Preview of Windows 8. No fault being found here - there are likely driver issues involved that will be resolved long before the release date.
But on a tablet - Windows 8 really shines. Some of my favorite discoveries:
Gestures are more prevalent than in Windows 7. For example to replace right-click and context-sensitive operations, you put your finger at the bottom of the screen and "swipe up" to activate the Metro application (or Start desktop) menus. Switching between programs or contexts is as easy as putting your finger at the left side of the screen and "swiping in" to switch to the next application.
The Internet Explore 10 "touch version" is quite polished - now you can actually get to the point where there is nothing showing except the web page you are looking at. No menus, no buttons, no address bar - just you and your content.
Although some have complained about the transition from Metro to the Windows 7-style desktop, I don't find it to be that much of a bother. The switch between contexts is clean and fast, and you can switch from the desktop presentation to the Metro presentation with little fuss at all. It's certainly no more jarring than switching from one full-screen program to another or hitting the "Show Desktop" button/icon in the current Windows versions.
A welcome and quite useful feature is the ability for the OS to mount ISO images and present them as if they were an inserted CD/DVD disc. For tablet users this will be invaluable, you no longer need to go hunt up a USB CD/DVD drive to install software.
I'm not going to get too much into the UI itself nor loads of screenshots for two reasons - first, there are many web sites out there doing that kind of coverage; and second, since this is a Developer Preview the odds that many visual effects, graphics, included applications, and so on will be greatly modified before launch time. Plenty of time in the beta for that kind of thing. :-)
Some things I've found that do bug me a little bit:
The dual-face nature of the Developer Preview means that there are some areas where things do "bump" at the transition stage. For example, there is a Task Manager in the desktop that is a mirror of the Windows XP/Vista/7 Task Manager, but an entirely different one if you start Task Manager from the Metro interface. And oh yes, by the way, the Metro Task Manger sees both desktop and Metro processes and programs but the desktop Task Manager doesn't see Metro processes and programs.
Similarly, there are some Control Panel applets that do the same. For example, I am a firm believer in setting Windows Updates to "Download updates but let me decide when to install them" - because some of my computers are busy 24/7 and I want to decide when to reboot them. Windows 8 does warn you when updates are ready to be installed but you have to go through the Metro Control Panel to get to the Desktop to get to the old-style Microsoft Updates dialog where updates can be installed.
Rearranging tiles on the Start screen seems to follow some arcane and hidden rules I haven't figured out yet as I sometimes wind up with gaps or cannot move a tile to the place I want it to go.
The Metro (touch) version of Internet Explorer does not support plug-ins, and won't. This is a decision Microsoft has made - they wish folks who want extensibility to the browser to use the HTML5 features that IE10 will support. I think I disagree with this decision or at least think it should be a user choice - but I see where they are coming from with the decision and though I don't think I agree with it I understand why the choice was made. Plug-ins do work fine in the Desktop version of Internet Explorer.
None of these are major problems and in fact I assume they'll almost surely be fixed (or properly documented at least!) when the beta and release stages come around.
Questions, Comments, Thoughts? Email me!