A week or so ago I had an opportunity to purchase an inexpensive 8" tablet that ran a full version of Windows 8.1. So, being the adventurous sort, I headed out to the mall bright and early to get in line for a killer doorbuster deal. Although I didn't get the super-duper-amazing-low-price, I did manage to get the super-amazing-low-price, so I decided it was good enough to pick it up and try it out for a week to see what I thought about it. Who knows, I thought, it could even become me regular go-to tablet.
At first, I was planning to give it to my wife, but she decided she wanted to stick with her Nexus 7 (man that's a great tablet). So I started my experience, setting up my account the same way that you set up a regular Windows 8.1 desktop. In fact the process was completely 100% identical from the user experience, that is except for pushing buttons on a screen instead of a keyboard.
Once the account was set up, I started to explore how this thing works. First, I have to say that I haven't used Windows 8.1 all that much, but a couple times that I have, I found it to be very disorienting. On a laptop, the Modern UI was foreign, and I had no idea where to move my mouse, or what the keyboard shortcuts were. However, from the moment I picked up the Windows tablet, it was amazingly intuitive. A few swipes and everything seemed to reveal itself, and I was almost immediately able to be productive in the interface. My biggest gripe was the lack of apps, specially Google services.
I then delved into the desktop mode on the 8" screen, and my intuitive behaviors were halted as quickly as they started. It's not that I didn't know how to work with a Windows desktop, but I struggled with being able to click boxes correctly, or scroll down lists of items without clicking on them. It became very clear, very quickly that this was NOT a touch based interface.
Over the course of the week, I kept running into this same problem. When I could find an app that utilized the Modern UI it was a great tablet to use. If I had to drop to the desktop to use the app I needed, it got painful and hard to work with. Very similar to a recent blog by Jay Machalani, I think Microsoft's best tactic is to divorce these two UI's from each other, and allow each to thrive in the environment that is best. If you have a tablet or touch screen interface, then Modern is the way to go. If you're utilizing your system as a workstation, then the traditional desktop is the best option. Microsoft then needs to find a way to allow developers to write their applications to function with two sets of interfaces. One for the desktop, and one for the touch interface, with the application switching to the best one for the environment it's running in.
It's probably inevitable that Mac OS X and iOS will merge in a similar way, but Apple has taken a different approach to make the iOS interface available to Mac OS X, but only as an extension. Not as a required way to do work. I believe that if Microsoft can adapt a bit more, and really make this transition to a dual-UI OS, they could really change things in the industry. However, Microsoft hasn't been known for a lot of sweeping moves like that, and they're currently still searching for a new CEO. So it's probably a 50/50 chance that it'll work out in the end.
In the end, I decided to bring the tablet back after my week and go back to my trusty iPad 2. I'm intrigued and impressed with what I got to play with, and I think it has some serious potential, but it's not quite ready for me yet.