Years ago, when MS first released their disjointed HP touch based desktops and clunky swiveling screen pen-enabled laptops, I remember thinking how awkward it would be to reach out and get fingerprints all over my monitor. Fast forward ten-ish years and, while the fingerprint thing is still an issue, the more I’ve used touch controls the more they seem a natural extension to all computers, especially on a laptop since my hands are already close to the screen (I have a feeling I’ll say the same thing about voice in ten more years).
I also like the idea of a larger tablet (let us say twelve inches), that can convert into a small laptop, otherwise known as a “Convertible” or a “2 in 1” (heretofore 2n1). Like, why do I need a laptop and a tablet? Can’t I just have one that does both well? I know you can buy keyboard cases for iPads (and Andoirds, of course), but the iPad is just a bit too small, and the keyboards made to fit that size of a tablet (nine inches) are definitely too small, and typically very poor quality.
So as Windows 10 was nearing release and with it came some exciting press around innovation in the 2n1 space (MS calls the core 2n1 feature Continuum) I began to—simply out of curiosity—peruse the glut of hardware choices for larger 2n1s. There are a good number of hardware options for windows, many of which seems solid and some are rather innovative. Despite a nagging voice of warning in the back of my head, my interest had been piqued.
That Windows piqued my interest in 2015 is saying something. I was an MS guy back in the 90s but somewhere in my 20s I began to realize I wanted my time spent at computers being productive and creative rather than editing autoexec.bat and config.sys files. I fought Windows into the early-oughts. As the years flew by, my enmity grew. Spyware and malware became prevalent in every download. My penurious college days gave way to a consistent paycheck which meant I didn’t have to rely on cheap power supplies from China that broke down every year. And yet I still was.
And then came my infamous HWBufferSize disaster of ’03. Let me explain: I was in a band back then recoring an album using MS Windows and a popular recording program* called Pro Tools. ProTools uses a hardware recording interface (in my case the Avid Digidesign 001) and a piece of software eponymously called Pro Tools. Unfortunately, I ran into a myriad of issues trying to get this setup to work without error over the years. Driver issues abounded on Windows back then, and they eventually pushed me over the top. And when I say over the top, I mean I became physically violent in a fit of techno-rage unlike any the world has ever witnessed.
I spent a month debugging and upgrading a PC to get Pro Tools to stop giving me the dreaded “Reduce H/W Buffer Size” error message, which would interrupt playback, or worse, recording. I ended up spending countless hours and thousands of dollars to replace every single component of my desktop (using new components that were certified by both MS and Avid). I thought I had finally fixed it: the problem had been my network card. That was it, I was sure of it, and twenty minutes of solid recording were proving me right. And that’s when it happened: A simple, small, grey dialog box that popped up halting my current recording session: “Recording Error: Reduce H/W Buffer Size”
(And yes, I had already tried to reduce the hardware buffer size. Ass.)
In a fit of unmitigated rage, within about five minutes of time, I did the following:
- I netscaped** over to Apple.com and ordered the most expensive iMac I could.
- I swigged about five ounces of good vodka.
- I kicked the living shit out of my “new” computer.
- I took all of my old components (the ones I had just replaced) into the concrete floor of my basement and smashed them with a sledgehammer. Into tiny little bits. (Bits—see what I did there?)
- I wept a tiny tear to tawdry technologies.
After this debacle, I didn’t touch a computer (at home) for a few weeks. When my new iMac came I plugged it in with some trepidation. Was I merely trading one annoyance for a more expensive, different, and proprietary annoyance? The machine booted up quickly, no issues. It looked beautiful, it sounded beautiful—hell, it smelled beautiful. The screen was amazing. I plugged in my Pro Tools Digi 001 audio interface, OSX recognized it right away and told me it was ready to use. I hit record.
I never had another playback or recording error again (or really any kind of error at all, aside from legitimate errors, like out of disk space). And I mean ever. It just worked. Literally, it just worked. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. So I swore off windows. Permanently.
BUT, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life (aside from which innkeepers are bad at Gwent), it is to never say never (again; even if you are way too old for Kim Basinger). So with interest fully piqued, I decided to take the plunge, pick up a cheap (but decent) Win10 2n1, and see if it would meet my bar. So, without further ado (I know, I know, I’m heavy on the ado), here are the notable callouts from my weekend with Windows 10…
A few cool features really stand out. The snapping feature is great. In desktop mode, you can grab a window and throw it into the corner. In laptop mode, you can run two apps seamlessly side by side (well, there is a seam between them, but it’s a movable/useful seam). These features are badly wanted in both OSX (as noted by the top productivity tool in the OSX app store being BetterSnapTool, which does exactly this) and in iOS (noted by Apple already having stolen this idea for the new iOS release coming in the fall). These are cool features.
The change from laptop to desktop is subtle, but useful, and certainly forward looking. The start button turns into a full screen experience. The task bar disappears, but the task manager is easily grabbed by swiping. It just makes sense, which is really the highest praise you can give for UX design. This is something that Apple will have a tough time figuring out since the development environments for iOS and OSX are rather disparate. I’m don’t think they’re in a hurry to solve this, as I’m not sure they see it as a problem (and maybe it isn’t, maybe most people don’t want 2n1s like me?).
So that’s pretty much all the good. Let’s talk about the bad…
The word “driver” is, unfortunately, still a thing.
First off, upon upgrading to Win10, the trackpad in my 2n1 didn’t work. I had to go dig around and find the Asus trackpad drivers and reinstall them, along with their proprietary helper app (gawd, the Asus box came with a lot of crappy proprietary helper apps; annoying). After a few reboots, at some point it started working again. So, yeah. Everything else had worked pretty well at this point, so I hoped this was a one-off issue.
Later in the day I tried to get my PS3 controller running so I could use Steam (another reason I was excited to try Windows again, as there are many Win only Steam games), this failed big time. It required a driver install created by some sketchy dev from some remote part of the interwebs, which, of course, tried to install all kinds of adware. After finally getting the right version installed (I hoped), I still couldn’t get the controller to function. Through much googling I learned that it would only work if I rebooted and turned off some kind of driver signing check in the BIOS. I tried to do this, but I couldn’t do this because my bluetooth keyboard wouldn’t work during the BIOS setup screen. I’m guessing there’s a way to get the BT keyboard working on BIOS setup, but at this point I was starting to get violent, so I just gave up.
(As a side note, I later plugged in my PS3 controller into my Macbook Pro and it just worked. No drivers, no installation, no nothing. It just worked. The PS button even launched Steam into full screen mode, pretty cool.)
Later on in my second day of Win10, my trackpad started acting up (jumping around, random clicking, totally unusable). Yet again I had to reinstall the drivers. The reinstall fixed the problem, but still: double-you-tee-eff.
I don’t mind doing a little tweaking here and there, but this was disappointing. I don’t have time to deal with fixing bugs. I didn’t have time in 2005, and definitely don’t in 2015.
There’s a Dearth of progra–er, apps for touch.
This is, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing Microsoft (read that programmableweb article, it’s spot on). And how ironic! Fifteen years ago, Windows had all the apps. Now? Not so much. Sure, there are desktop versions of most everthing, but even then, many of them aren’t as nice as their Apple counterparts (I found out too late that Scrivener is gimped on Win10 as compared to OSX). And if you actually want a modern, touch enabled app, good luck there. The Windows touch-based apps pale (big time) in comparison to their iOS and Android counterparts (even the Facebook app is a joke on Win10).
It’s a strange issue for developers. Take a smaller app developer, let’s say Rhapsody, the music streaming service (since I worked there years ago and TPM’d their first iPhone and Android app). Should you make a new Windows Touch app and replace your old desktop app? Do you change your old desktop app and make it more touchy-feely? If you do this, do you alienate the desktop only customers? Do you have both a touch-based app and a desktop app? The latter option is the direction Evernote chose to go, but it’s a strange experience for the 2n1 customer; do I use the touch based app in laptop mode or the fully functional in desktop mode? Or do I just use the fully functional desktop app while in laptop mode (which is doable)? It’s just confusing.
Hardware abounds, but is it really any good?
A note on the hardware choices for Win10: There’s a lot of choice out there (one of the benefits of Windows), but it seems like every offering has some weaknesses (for instance, the Asus Chi300 is solid, but the battery life is terrible; even the HP 360 SpecterX, which looks cool, has a pedestrian Full HD screen at its high price point). The best machines—the ones that don’t sacrifice anything—aren’t really any cheaper than their Macbook equivalents. And I’m sure they all come with their own driver issues.
I give Win10 a rating of NT out of 11. Some smart people have put some great work into Windows 10. If developers somehow come on board, then customers may come. I, however, will not be visiting again unless I am certain the word driver has been permanently stricken from Microsoft’s vocabulary.
Off to Apple.com to buy a Macbook.
*Remember when we used to call apps programs? Those were the days!
**Okay, I’m exaggerating here, I probably FireFoxed.