Microsoft's Claim that the Desktop is 'Just Another App' Doesn't Wash

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I've a lot of writing to do over the next couple of months for my MSc and have made a conscious effort to do so using Word on my RT with its accompanying Touch Cover. 400 words in, I've been pleasantly surprised by my typing's speed and accuracy. There's been a significant improvement in both compared to six months ago. So much so that I'm re-considering the need to purchase a Type Cover. That's been the positive takeaway from the experience thus far. 

The trial has also unfortunately meant I'm spending more time in the Desktop than I would otherwise. Obviously this environment was never designed for touch. But like the rest of RT, the experience could be more satisfactory were it not for little annoyances. One I noticed today is the on-screen keyboard doesn't appear automatically if my Touch Cover is disconnected and the cursor's focus is in an editable text area or input - instead you need to tap on the keyboard icon in the Taskbar's Notification Area. Granted you're unlikely to be in the Desktop without a keyboard cover attached, but I've already established Word on RT works fine when using touch exclusively. And that's a constraint I voluntarily imposed on myself when I decided to convert the RT from laptop to tablet so I could review what I'd written away from my desk and on the go. 

The on-screen touch keyboard may not be ideal for long form writing but it's more than good enough for quick edits. But because of its behaviour at the moment, a quick edit becomes a frustrating change. Moreover, hiding the keyboard requires you to tap on a close button in its top right, rather than tapping on any area of the screen that's a non-editable text area/input. In other words, how you open and close the on-screen keyboard on the Desktop is different to any Metro app. Seeing as Microsoft thinks of the Desktop as just another app, I don't understand this discrepancy. Or maybe it was just Steven Sinofsky who did:

Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.

Remember, the Surface RT comes with Office pre-installed but doesn't come with a keyboard cover. That is, if you're going to sell the RT as a pure tablet but still ship with a Desktop, I'd expect you to take the necessary steps to minimise the jarring effect of switching from a Metro app to a Desktop app. What Microsoft have instead done is the opposite. The inconsistent behaviour further alienates the Desktop and makes working in Word when using a Surface in tablet mode incredibly frustrating. If someone can share even one good reason justifying the discrepancy, I'd be delighted. Good luck.