Why I Want a Windows 7 Tablet — And You Should, Too

For Microsoft, it is the best of times and the worst of times. A couple of weeks ago, the company announced it had sold 100 million copies of Windows 7 already. The 6-month-old OS is now installed on 10-percent of the world’s PCs and, by all accounts, is a huge success. And Redmond would seem to have plenty to look forward to, with the release of Office 2010 this quarter and devices running Windows Phone 7 due by end of the year.

So why are so many of Microsoft’s partners turning away from the company when it comes to mobile devices? Last week, we heard that HP may be trashing plans for its long-awaited Slate, supposedly because the company doesn’t think Windows 7 can work well enough on tablets. Even if it does release the device eventually, the Palo Alto company showed so little faith in Microsoft’s mobile strategy that it decided to acquire Palm. Perhaps they were reading some of the pundits.

PCMag Editor-in-Chief Lance Ulanoff wrote last month that “if Microsoft and its partners hinder these new tablets with a full-blown OS and the standard world of ad-hoc Windows applications and utilities bought from non-homogenous sources, Apple and the iPad will win.” After the product’s alleged cancellation, ZDNet’s Jason Perlow was tougher calling the HP Slate “an ugly baby with Windows 7.” Even our own Mark Spoonauer recently referred to Windows 7 as too “resource and power-hungry” for tablets.

Intel hasn’t been much kinder than HP. Today, the chip-maker unveiled its new Atom Z6xx chipset for tablets and announced support only for Android and its own Moblin OS. That’s the first time we can remember an Intel chip that didn’t work with Windows (at least since the XScale days). If Intel doesn’t change its stance, it’s providing a strong disincentive for OEMs that want to make Windows 7 tablets and MIDs.

MSI, for example, recently told Engadget that they were delaying its dual screen tablet until Q4, because they’re looking for ways to get more endurance. On test units powered by a current-generation Atom Z5xx (Menlow) CPU, MSI said they were getting only 3 hours of battery life. It looks like, if they want the long battery life Intel’s new Atom Z6xx series chip provides, they’ll need to drop Windows 7 like a bad habit.

What HP, Intel, and the pundits can’t see is that Windows 7 actually has the potential to not only contend in this new tablet arena, but to dominate it. They just need to provide the right hardware and software to go with it.

I have the greatest respect for the iPad and its iPhone OS, but what if I want to use the exact same programs I enjoy on my desktop while I’m relaxing on my couch? What if I want to use the Web browser of my choice, and one that supports a full array of plug-ins, including Flash? What if I want to watch movies from Amazon Video On Demand or some other DRM-protected video store that isn’t iTunes? With the iPad, I’m out of luck. And what if I want to play World of Warcraft, instead of watered-down apps?

For that matter, what if I want to write or draw on my screen with a stylus? Windows 7 has excellent pen support, with handwriting recognition built right in.

I can sit wait and hope that Android or webOS matures enough to carry all the features and apps I could ever possibly want or I could use Windows 7, the world’s fastest growing and best supported operating system.

I don’t deny that Windows 7 has some issues when it comes to touch. The Start Menu is really difficult to navigate with one’s finger and dragging windows around on a slate doesn’t make a ton of sense. However, it’s very easy to put a good touch UI on top of Windows (see HP’s Touchsmart or Lenovo’s SimpleTap) and, with the right desktop theme settings, widgets like the minimize / maximize / close buttons can be large enough to tap with ease. Microsoft could help out by providing some kind of a touch UI that users can activate or by at least making a touch-friendly theme available. It would also help if the company’s own applications – Microsoft Office 2010, for example – had features that took advantage of touch.

Don’t believe the hype about Windows 7 being too power hungry for consumer tablets. If a 10-inch, 2.5-pound netbook can get 10 hours of battery life while running Windows 7, then it’s more than possible to create a 7-inch or 9-inch slate tablet that gets strong endurance. Vendors will just have to innovate when it comes to design and users may have to initially accept a little more thickness, a larger battery, or a tad less endurance than they’d get with an iPad. But those trade-offs are imminently worthwhile when you consider the user experience.

The huge ecosystem behind Windows 7 is what makes it such a compelling choice for tablets, MIDs, and other devices that sit between a phone and a PC. Some critics have derided Microsoft for not having a Windows 7 app store, but with Windows the entire Internet is your app store.

Microsoft’s leadership position and many well-publicized foibles make it an easy target. But there’s a reason why Windows remains the world’s leading operating system.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. s Says:

    Um, no.

    Windows is built for keyboard and mouse input. Windows 7 has made the OS usable via touch, but hardly fun, or even efficient. This in addition to the decreased performance and battery life.

    There is a small niche market that wants a full Windows machine in a slate form-factor — IT people, doctors, and a couple other professions.

    But most don’t need it, and for those that don’t have that need a mobile OS is a far better option.

  2. mrscj Says:

    Let’s remember that Windows 7 sold so much because VISTA was junk. So if Microsoft’s genius was in putting out crap and then fixing it…kudos!

  3. Richard Says:

    Your blog post makes a fundamental assumption about the utility of tablet devices: that they should be touch-enabled, keyboard-less extensions of existing laptops/desktops. However, Apple’s iPad has redefined this class of device as a consumer-oriented, information ‘appliance’ that is as reliable and easy to use as a cell phone.

    Windows is many things, but reliable and easy-to-use are not among them. I like Windows 7 — I have it on my desktop and netbook — but I would not call it an appliance. It requires a certain degree of care and feeding. Like every version of Windows before it, Windows 7 is a security hazard. And its underlying plumbing, including the much-reviled System Registry, is prone to “Windows rot,” a progression well-known to many users. I have personally had to reinstall Windows from scratch on three machines due to Windows rot.

    The fact is, people won’t be using their tablets to work on Windows apps that are not designed for touch screens. In this regard, the existing Windows ecosystem is largely irrelevent. People want new apps that make using a tablet fun and easy. If you really want to run your legacy Windows apps, you have your netbook/laptop/desktop. Windows has no business being on an appliance.

    And why do you believe that tablet apps can only be “watered-down” versions? I expect to see some very sophisticated applications for future tablet devices.

    Also, Windows is not exacly a lean and efficient operating system. It was originally written for the desktop platform, and its legacy prevents it from being competitive with Android and webOS. While I’m sure Windows 7 runs fine on an Atom processor, Android will run much better. Why would you ever deliberately slow down a tablet? Just so you can run your ill-fitting legacy Windows apps?

    Slapping a touch-enabled interface on top of Windows is not the same as having a highly polished UI as you find in Android or webOS. It’s a mongrel, lacking finesse and sex appeal. Good luck trying to market such a beast to the fashion-conscious public.

    In short, you oversell the benefits of the Windows ecosystem in tablets. For this new class of device, it’s time to break away from the past.

  4. Alslayer Says:

    If I wanted a windows 7 tablet today, I would get the Viliv X70.

  5. Jason Barone Says:

    The first comment said it best, it would hardly be fun. I’m a Windows user for 15 years. There’s no way I would ever pay money for a Windows Tablet. Aside from the normal complaints with Windows: viruses, crashing, errors, high resource use, etc, Windows doesn’t have the ecosystem in place to make the touch experience even remotely “OK”. It would probably be very similar to what Windows Mobile was, Windows on a small device. Also, I don’t think a Windows 7 Tablet wouldn’t stand a chance in the Tablet market now, or in the next year. I’m not a Windows hater, I just don’t think it belongs on a Tablet. Spend 15 minutes on an iPad and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

  6. Jason Barone Says:

    Oops, some typos above. I meant I don’t think a Windows 7 Tablet would stand a chance in the Tablet market now, or in the coming year.

  7. battery Says:

    the Windows 7 tablet is very power,i want it,now my laptop is the vista

  8. Marc Says:

    A tablet on the contrary is a chance to get AWAY from Windows; I don’t want the same problems on a different class of device where I don’t need all the Windows applications that plague my desktop at work.

  9. Kirikera Says:

    A few reasons why Windows tablets will never take off
    a. UI not built for touch (and this applies to MacOS and Linux desktop versions too)
    b. Battery life
    c. Resource hungry – eats up RAM and uses CPU in huge bursts
    d. Disk fragmentation – need to defrag quite often to keep it smooth
    e. Registry – this is similar to cars with carburettors and keeps clogging up without any proper way of declogging it
    f. .NET – a huge ugly unwieldy kludgy clumsy monster that sits on top of the OS – which is what most IT bureaucracies love but makes no sense to have it on a tablet. Any application running on this monster is an immediate drag on both performance and battery life. You do need good old clean executables writtten in C++ or Delphi that are small in size and totally self contained (statically compiled) to give you better usage of resources

    With all these issues, how do you expect tablets running Windows to succeed?

  10. Richard Says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Windows tablets have existed long before iPad. They did not sell well. Why? If people really want to work on their spreadsheets and play World of Warcraft while relaxing on their couch, why didn’t tablet sales take off?

    Massaging the concept now and re-releasing Windows tablets is like trying to resurrect a dead horse. Nothing has changed. Why should the public be any more interested now than five years ago?

  11. Hess Says:

    I agree that it will not take off for the average consumer. Yet, Windows-based ‘super portables’ like the C2D Fujitsu P1630 have given me a huge advantage in the hospital. Unfortunately, there are specific health care software platforms that are still Windows only (hopefully this will change over time).

    I am able to last all day with 9 cells. If you’re lucky, you can still score a refurbished one at Fujitsu ebay store for well under $600.

    In my opinion, the Win7 touch experience in 120 dpi mode is actually quite nice. I only use sleep mode, so it’s always ‘instant on’ and always ready for whatever I decide to throw at it. Surprisingly, it has never failed me in the field.

  12. Felipe Rigonato Says:

    “If people really want to work on their spreadsheets and play World of Warcraft while relaxing on their couch, why didn’t tablet sales take off?”
    maybe because of the
    *price , the tablets will get cheaper
    *battery life: the cpu consumes energy too, remember ? the ipad got the ARM cpu.
    *worse performace (again, the cpu can solve)
    *low screen res.
    *lack of touch UI built in
    *lack of video card accelerator.
    Think in a tablet without these problems. The market would change the mind , right? Maybe a Moorestown like cpu.
    (almost the Viliv X70 and the others tablets, right? no, actually no.)
    “trying to resurrect a dead horse” ?? really?
    “Apple’s iPad has redefined this class of device as a consumer-oriented, information ‘appliance’ that is as reliable and easy to use as a cell phone”
    redefined? releasing a big iphone? nice.
    Windows is many things, but reliable and easy-to-use are not among them.”
    um, only because it´s a real os now it´s hard to use. nice. Easy is a smartphone os, right, few applications, ok.
    “And why do you believe that tablet apps can only be “watered-down” versions? I expect to see some very sophisticated applications for future tablet devices.”
    Cool, let´s expect so. Maybe a wow, or power point app right ?
    “Also, Windows is not exacly a lean and efficient operating system. It was originally written for the desktop platform, and its legacy prevents it from being competitive with Android and webOS. While I’m sure Windows 7 runs fine on an Atom processor, Android will run much better. Why would you ever deliberately slow down a tablet? Just so you can run your ill-fitting legacy Windows apps?”
    Its legacy prevents it from being competitive with Android and webOS? argument?
    Slow down a tablet? What about the next cpu gen?
    “Slapping a touch-enabled interface on top of Windows is not the same as having a highly polished UI as you find in Android or webOS.”
    “Windows is built for keyboard and mouse input. Windows 7 has made the OS usable via touch, but hardly fun, or even efficient.”
    Ok, exchange polished UI and “fun” to office, wow, everithing, in your pocket.
    If you don´t want win 7 full os in you pocket, the problem is yours. Performace, battery, input, functionality are not a problem , as the next cpu gen is coming and innovations from microsoft.
    No, thinking well, stay with your fun and easy smartphone os tablet with “full functionality” and be happy.

  13. stanb Says:

    Windows 7 runs fine on tablets or slates. I would e en say it runs great on the Viliv x70. You just have to go through the tablet and pen/touch setup.

    I scroll in the OS and apps using flick gestures. Chrome touch in the browser. Handwriting recognition is very good, voice commands/recognition works very well. Typing this using the viliv on screen keyboard.

    I even use it to work from the couch or bed, no need for a laptop. I have a cheap small usb dvd player/burnner in case i need to install something. I was looking at netbooks and laptops but ended up with an x70 and dont see myself getting a laptop for work anytime soon.

    Fast, stable, easy to use, no multitouch or acceleromter , 6hours battery life, perfect size and shape for one or two hand use.

    Android tablets are awsome but serve a diff. purpose.

  14. Alan Says:

    What tons of people forget that there are many professionals who spend a good portion of their day taking written notes. I, for one, do it myself and I am not a doctor or lawyer. I take handwritten notes due to two reasons: 1) typing and looking over a laptop when trying to engage with a client is counterproductive and 2) trying to quickly sketch out diagrams is near impossible with a keyboard/mouse and do it in a quick interactive fashion.

    Because of this I do handwritten and then re-key my information or scan it into an electronic format.

    To have a tablet that is lightweight and has excellent note taking capabilities (think OneNote) is my dream device. But it has to have a stylus. For all of those of you keep saying touch with fingers only, try taking notes with your index finder or drawing complex diagrams. Or try typing for an hour straight on a virtual keyboard. Check your error rate and get back to me.

    I think the iPad has a great form factor but it is a consumer toy, not a tool for business. I would love to have one for sitting on the couch or traveling with the kids, but as far as business goes, I doubt buying one has a positive ROI.

    Is it too much to ask for an iPad size device that can run OneNote and Office and has internet access and be touch and stylus enabled?

  15. azh Says:

    Alan, there are some 3rd-party applications for the iPad, which can serve for this purpose. For example, Mobilenoter: a note-taking app which can sync with OneNote. If you need inking only, you can have look at PenUltimate.

  16. Randy Park Says:

    Reasons to like a Windows tablet, from someone who is currently using a Windows tablet (Fujitsu stylistic):

    for one, I am currently dictating this using Dragon naturally speaking on my tablet computer. I don’t have to be connected to the Internet for voice recognition, and I can dictate into any application I want.
    For another, handwriting recognition and notetaking with the stylus. I use OneNote for taking notes in meetings and conferences, and it is an amazing program. Most of the time I don’t actually convert my notes, because OneNote will index them in the background anyway, and that is one of the key advantages. Also, by not converting, I can include diagrams, highlighting, different colored pens, etc. it is wonderful!
    (I recently saw an advertisement from Samsung during the Super Bowl game boasting about how their new phone has a stylus. Full circle.)
    Certainly there are some Windows programs where a keyboard and mouse are more convenient, so at my office I dock my tablet and connect to a large monitor. But I still often use the stylus and OneNote for taking notes while I’m on the phone.
    A year and a half ago when I was looking for this type of functionality, I searched on the web, and found the series of Stylistic computers. They have dual core processors, real hard drives, 1 Gb Ethernet, video out, USB, etc. But since Fujitsu didn’t make them anymore, I had to buy them used from eBay.
    I bought two of them, and they are my principal computers. I don’t even use a laptop anymore.
    The biggest irony is that whenever someone sees me using this at a meeting, or a conference, or when I’m in the security line at the airport they always ask “is that the newest type of tablet?”

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