jamieJamie Davis, VP, Education, Product Management, and Quality Control

Our definition of the personal computer is changing. And I’m convinced that the future of the PC is moving to the tablet/hybrid model.

When I first saw an iPad – or even an iPhone, for that matter – I was immediately convinced consumer demand would drive this form factor to become more powerful, and eventually completely replace the personal computer as we know it. Who doesn’t want to go to school, work, home or to a friend’s house and have all their files, bookmarks, and preferred settings all on a single device they carry in their pocket?  So when the first wave of hybrid devices came out running Windows 8, Safe Systems jumped at the chance to buy them. I chose a Lenovo Yoga, and broke it in as my main work computer for a month. The following are my thoughts about the hybrid PC.

Windows 8

Prior to using the Lenovo Yoga, I hadn’t used Windows 8. Going in, I was excited about the touchscreen options, and my dad had successfully installed it on his home machine, so it couldn’t be that hard to get used to… right? The parent test is my ultimate test. If they can use it, and maybe even like it, then I presume it has to be safe for the general public. With Windows 8, however, my personal experience ended up a little different than I expected.

Now, I won’t list all of my issues with Microsoft’s new operating system design, but I will say this: most institutions will likely skip Windows 8 as the primary operating system for all of their machines. The new interface is such a departure from previous Windows versions that many users will need training on how to use it. The layout and design is that different. You might be perfectly happy with Windows 8 if all you had to do each day was open one or two basic applications. However, when it comes time to really use the computer and navigate settings, documents and multiple programs, the learning curve for Windows 8 is about as steep as it’s ever been. On top of the new interface, Microsoft has made the navigation less intuitive. The intuitiveness of an application is probably the biggest attribute to its success.

Intuitiveness

When Nokia was dominating the cell phone market in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, one of the largest reasons was that their phone was intuitive and easy to use. Anyone could pick up a Nokia phone, and in a couple of minutes know every feature the phone had (which were admittedly not many). The No. 1 attribute the iPad had when it released was that anyone could pick it up and use it without training. Prior to the iPad, tablets had come and gone for years, but the operating systems were always lacking in the ease-of-use department. Along with building an app and accessory ecosystem, the instinctive nature of the iPad’s interface led to its success. No one will confuse Windows 8 with iOS. Instead of clear, simple icons and functionalities, Microsoft left its new OS with hidden menus and settings, as well as gesture controls that don’t make a whole lot of sense.

I’m sure with time Windows 8 will grow on me and others like me. But with Windows 7 extended support continuing through 2020, I’d expect most institutions will stick with the more familiar interface on new machines for the near future. In fact, much of corporate America is already taking this strategy, and Microsoft has not seen the adoption rate of Windows 8 that it had hoped for.

The graphic below shows the drop in use of Windows XP machines and the increase in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines. Notice that Windows 7’s growth is greater than Windows 8’s along the same time frame.

windows 8

The Hybrid PC / Yoga

I love the portability of the hybrid device. As someone who has to carry his laptop to multiple desks, offices, and conference rooms every day, the weight and size is great. The ability to use it in tablet mode to quickly launch a document, and with a quick bend of the monitor, have access to a full laptop and keyboard are outstanding features. Though at 13 inches, it was a touch (pardon the pun) too big as a tablet, and as mentioned before, Windows 8 sometimes made using it as a tablet a little challenging.

I encountered a few unexpected issues during my month with the Yoga. Most of those concerned the available ports. For starters, many of these devices are wifi-only devices and don’t have a traditional NIC for LAN access. For security purposes, most networks segment LAN and wireless access apart from each other, making physical connectivity essential. Another problem with this scenario came when rebuilding the machine: the wireless driver was not available. Since there was no LAN access, I couldn’t download a driver. Furthermore, there was also no floppy or cd rom, so I couldn’t upload a driver that way. The only input option was a USB port. In order to get it reconfigured for wifi, I had to download the driver from another computer onto a USB drive and then install the driver from the USB stick. Also, many of these devices have minimal output ports. The Yoga, for instance, did not have a VGA output for video/monitor but did have an HDMI port. I have seen some Windows 8 devices that have even fewer options, with manufacturers trading functionality for portability. If you’re considering the purchase of one of these hybrid devices, be sure to evaluate whether the input and output options suit your needs.

Final Thoughts

If Windows 8 or a hybrid device is something you want to bring into your institution, then I urge you to buy one and test it out before committing to multiple devices. The current trend for companies replacing Windows XP is to switch to Windows 7. I still believe the hybrid device will continue to grow in popularity and possibly overtake the personal computer. But at this point, the transition is still several years away.

One final thought I’d like to share if you plan to replace older hardware:  Consider touch screen monitors as older monitors get replaced. With so much emphasis placed on the touchscreen experience, I expect Microsoft to continue to enhance those controls in future versions of Windows. A quick search of Dell shows a 20” touchscreen monitor and non-touchscreen monitor both costing $199. While I’m not sure if this is a typical representation of expected pricing, it appears that touchscreen monitors do not necessarily increase your investment while perhaps helping you “future-proof” just a little more.

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