I’ve been exclusively using Windows 8 as my desktop operating system for a full six months now. It started as an experiment after attending the Microsoft BUILD conference, where I received a Samsung Series 7 slate with Windows 8 Developer Preview. Even though this was a very early version of Windows 8, it was usable for the vast majority of my normal work tasks, so I stuck with it. Since then, I’ve updated to the consumer preview, rearranged my desk around the slate, and learned quite a bit about how to use this combo in the most efficient ways.
This post is mainly about passing on a few tips and lessons I’ve picked up , but I’ll be up front and point out that these will not apply to everyone. There isn’t any one PC manufacturer or form-factor that can best fit every user. One of the reasons I’m most excited about Windows 8 is how it will enable a new wave of experimentation and innovation in PC hardware. However, I do think there is a ton of potential in this slate form factor for a wide variety of user types.
Here is my current desk configuration. 3M 22″ touchscreen on top, Samsung Series 7 slate below in its dock, and a standard keyboard and mouse below that.
There are a few reasons I really like this particular arrangement. First, the slate’s dock naturally angles the screen up at about 30 degrees. This means looking at the bottom screen still feels comfortable, but also helps with touch and pen input, similar to a drafting table. Generally I run Outlook full screen on the slate, while everything else runs up top. When sitting at my desk, most input happens via the mouse and keyboard, and I don’t expect (or want) that to change any time soon. However, I will occasionally use the bottom touchscreen for quick gestures. For example, I might just scroll through email while drinking coffee, or quickly dismiss a meeting reminder while I’m talking to someone. My point is, once you get used to having a touchscreen, you tend to use it once in a while even while in the ‘desk productivity’ context.
Another reason I think this screen arrangement works really well is specific to Windows 8. Peter Bright recently published a very comprehensive (and worth reading) review of his experience so far with Windows 8 on the desktop. He ran into several usability issues related to his multi-monitor setup and some of the new features of Windows 8 (‘hot’ corners and snapped metro-style apps). I’ve found that you can mostly avoid these issues with a top/bottom screen arrangement instead of side-by-side. With side-by-side, you have to worry about at least one edge being ‘virtual’, which means you can’t just jam your mouse into the lower-right corner and get the charms if you have a screen to the right.
Another issue that Peter brings up is the restriction of only running metro-style apps on the ‘primary’ monitor. I just leave my slate’s screen as the primary screen, which means all metro-style apps launch there, along with the start menu. Technically, I’m using the top screen far more often when sitting at my desk, I just don’t mark it as primary. This works very well for me, and I have a hunch it’s what a lot of Microsoft peeps are doing. Of course I’m aware that not everyone can position their screen this way, but I recommend it if possible.
The best part about using a slate as my primary work PC is that going to a meeting is just a matter of undocking and grabbing a pen. I have been a fan of using OneNote with ink input for several years, but it’s never been so seamless. Before, I was either always using a bulky convertible, or a separate tablet that didn’t have all my other applications and data. With Windows 8, no such compromises are necessary.
I think it’s impressive that I’m not just used to Windows 8 already, but hooked, and we haven’t even seen the release candidate yet! I can’t wait to see how much better it gets as more third party apps become available. Avanade is already talking to customers about how to harness Windows 8 to improve their applications, and transform tomorrow’s desktops. There is a lot to look forward to!