Windows 10 hardware tale has a happy ending

It took four units, but convertible laptop glory was eventually attained. Now one more tweak might win a few more Windows 10 converts

I'm pretty sure I now hold the world record for most 2-in-1 Windows 10 PCs owned by a single lunatic individual.

Our story begins where it ended two weeks ago: I'd run into problems with a Lenovo Yoga 3 14 and made arrangements to return it. Then I bought an HP Spectre x360, found it had the same problem (an unnecessary Realtek startup item), solved it on both machines, returned the Yoga, and ended here:

After all these years, though, I'm still not ready to declare the 2-in-1 category ready for prime time. The shotgun marriage of conventional and touch interfaces is still awkwardly consummated -- and drivers struggle to keep up with the evolution of hardware. Maybe the Surface Book will finally show the way. Meanwhile I'll use the Spectre x360 with Windows 10, which, despite flaws, is a sweet combination. But the smug superiority I was planning to unleash on my hipster Mac friends will have to wait.

That was an understatement. A few days after writing that column, the HP's touchscreen became partly unresponsive. I took Spectre No. 1 back to Best Buy and exchanged it for Spectre No. 2. A week later its audio went glitchy. Thus, I exchanged Spectre No. 2 for Spectre No. 3, which works beautifully so far.

At this point you have to ask two questions. First, has HP's quality control gone south? Honestly, I don't know. It's tempting to conclude it has. But maybe I've simply been crazy unlucky.

Second, what in the world was I thinking? My last post provoked this response on Twitter:

@judell for want of flip screen you WASTE your life chasing down same nonsense since 1990s. Get a MacBook and stop wasting your life.

It's a fair point. Honestly, though, I quit caring about tribal loyalty to vendors a long time ago. A computer is simply a tool I use to do my job. But I use it a lot, and I care intensely about its capabilities. The PC I've always wanted, and now have, is fast, light, and beautifully designed. It has a real keyboard, a folding touchscreen, and an OS that can make effective use of touch. Until the Surface Book shows up, the HP Spectre is really the only game in town.

The touch experience, as I mentioned last time, isn't fully baked yet in Windows 10, but it's compelling even in its current incarnation. When I was setting up this machine, for example, I did most of what needed to be done -- turning off the Windows 10 spyware, adjusting system settings, downloading, installing, and configuring my standard suite of applications -- using the touchscreen. That wasn't merely a stunt. A touchscreen is a more natural interface than a touchpad or a mouse.

The 360-degree hinge is another huge benefit. When the laptop is docked to my big monitor, I fold the keyboard under and behind the screen, which brings the screen within reach of my left hand. When showing my screen to others I flip over the machine and make it into a tent. When reading on the sofa I alternate between two modes. In full tablet mode, it's a flat device I hold vertically. In what I call book mode it's open to a 45-degree angle, which sounds odd but is comfortable to hold. Either way, I swipe with my thumb to scroll, and it's like reading on a book-sized smartphone.

Given the problems I've described, I likely won't win many converts. That's OK. In my quest for a long-imagined set of capabilities I've invested more time and effort than a reasonable person would. If you'd rather wait for Apple to catch up, that's probably smart.

But until an Apple product arrives, there's a window of opportunity for Microsoft to change minds about Windows 10. How? I have a wild idea.

In order to explain, I have to take you back to the second O'Reilly P2P conference in November 2001. OS X 10.0 had shipped that March. Eight months later, at the conference, I saw a remarkable sight: alpha geeks carrying around MacBooks with open screens where Terminal windows were running ssh. A year earlier these folks had been running Linux on their laptops. But the beauty of the Mac hardware coupled with a Unix substrate was irresistible to them. While I can't prove it, I believe the choice those alpha geeks made influenced the tech mainstream, which in turn influenced the civilian mainstream.

Here's the wild idea: Build a real Unix subsystem into Windows 10, ensure that any open source project will build cleanly on a vanilla Windows box, and round up some alpha geeks to walk around at OSCON 2016 showing off those capabilities. How's that for a guerrilla marketing strategy?

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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