Windows 8 on touch tablets is only months away, with Windows 8 approaching its final version and Office 2013 also well under development. The combination of a real office productivity suite and a version of Windows that honors both the new world of touch and the legacy of traditional desktop computing should make a powerful combination that would invalidate the iPad and Android tablets.
That's Microsoft's hope, so it loaned InfoWorld a Samsung Slate with the latest Windows 8 and Office 2013 versions installed to let us put that hope to the test.
My colleague Serdar Yegulalp has looked in depth at the new Office, but primarily as a desktop productivity suite. Does an Office-equipped Windows 8 tablet work well in a tablet context? I've been experimenting with the combination for several days, and the answer is a decided no.
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The bottom line is that Windows 8 is a tremendously awkward mishmash that honors few of the usability realities of a touch environment. It's true that neither iOS nor Android has anywhere near a strong competitor to Office available, upping the appeal of an Office-savvy tablet. But Windows 8 is so frustrating to use on tablets that it's hard to believe anyone will choose Windows 8 slates over iPads or Android tablets, even with the Office advantage. IT may want to make that choice for enterprises, to continue the familiar Windows monoculture, but it'll be a nonstarter with users.
Let me explain why Windows 8 tablets simply don't work well, at least not in their current form, and how to minimize the pain if you're forced to use one. Do keep in mind that both Windows 8 and Office 2013 are still in beta, so Microsoft could still fix their flaws. However, time is running out for Windows 8, which is expected to be sent to manufacturers in a few weeks for products to ship in October. Office 2013 is slated for early 2013, so refinements may still be possible.
Let me be clear: The problem is mainly Windows 8, not Office 2013 -- which is a crying shame because Office 2013 so far will be available only for Windows 7 and 8. Its only mobile outlet is the one you likely won't want.
A tablet UI that's hard to touch
If you don't have the latest touch tablets -- those specifically designed for Windows 8 -- don't bother getting Windows 8. It has trouble with on-disk BitLocker encryption with devices that don't have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a rare feature. Even worse, the work-around to enable encryption on a non-TPM device is painful. Many such devices don't have native Windows 8 drivers, so you can't use an onscreen or physical keyboard at startup, such as to enter safe mode or input your BitLocker password for the initial encryption.
I had that problem with a Samsung Slate from mid-2011, meaning I could not access corporate email from it. Windows 8 may run on older computers, but when it comes to tablets, Windows 8 really needs new devices designed specifically for it. The good news is that few people have bought Windows tablets, so most people won't have legacy tablets that pose questions about compatibility.