A failure of imagination is killing the PC industry

Windows 8 and Ultrabooks show what's wrong with the Wintel approach to making creative computing devices

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The uselessness of a touchless Windows 8 PC has been written about so much that I won't repeat it. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. But a Windows PC with a touchscreen is also a bad experience -- you can see why the PC makers are willing to drop that type of screen from so many PCs. They're damned if they include it and damned if they don't.

I experienced that firsthand with the Lenovo Carbon. Surfing the Web and looking at photos and so on with the touchscreen Carbon was no problem. In fact, I enjoyed it. But when I used Office 365 to get some work done, what I got was a lot of typos and a sore hand. I really needed to attach a mouse to be able to use it -- so why bother with the touchscreen? No wonder so many PC makers have publicly criticized Windows 8.

Office 2013 is too blame as well
Microsoft worsened the problem by trying to imagine a touch-enabled version of Office, its cash cow, but doing so poorly. Using Office 2013's pulldown menus, especially ones with submenus, with touch is practically impossible unless you have doll-sized fingers. Even then, you're making small, controlled gestures on a vertical screen, which quickly gets physically tiring.

You could lower the screen to its horizontal position (as I did with the convertible Carbon) and pretend you have a tablet, which makes it a bit easier to use the touch interface. But the ergonomics of working like that are also bad. Plus, in that configuration the PC is too wide to fit on an airplane tray table -- unlike an iPad.

Users are voting for iOS and Android, not Windows 8
Forget all these usability issues and suppose you still want to equip a workforce with these machines because, well, you've standardized on whatever Microsoft delivers. Because the UI is so unfamiliar, people will have to be retrained, a significant expense when you factor in the loss of productivity while people come up to speed -- if they ever do.

You could argue that iOS and Android tablets are unfamiliar, so introducing them into the workplace would be equally difficult. But that's not the case. Because smartphones and tablets started out as consumer devices, nearly everyone has some familiarity with that form of a UI. Simply put, employees are training themselves, which is one big reason why BYOD is a reality in the workplace. They're happy to do so with iOS and Android -- but not Windows 8, as sales figures so clearly show.

Maybe there are ways around this dilemma. The answer is certainly not the Surface Pro, Microsoft's deeply flawed Windows 8 tablet. Maybe Windows "Blue" will correct many of the shortcomings of Windows 8. We'll see.

There's no doubt that tens of millions of PCs will be sold over the next few years. But if the industry can't imagine a different path, the long-term outlook for PC makers is very troubling.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "A failure of imagination is killing the PC industry," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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