In Pictures: Touch and go, 11 new Windows 8 input devices tested

While there’s a lot more going on under hood, touch control is the singular Windows 8 feature that fundamentally changes how you interact with your notebook, tablet, or desktop PC.

The change in experience is almost as significant as the transition from relying on keyboard combinations to sliding a mouse around your desk. These days, you can control your device with a finger swipe or gesture as easily as you can by pressing buttons on a mouse or keyboard.

Those familiar devices aren’t necessarily going away, but they are evolving to leverage the new Windows user interface.

Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 Logitech has a strong reputation for manufacturing great keyboards, and the K810 is no exception.

And if you like typing in the dark—either at your desk or on your living-room sofa—you’ll appreciate the backlit keys that automatically brighten or dim in response to ambient light.

The keyboard is extremely thin, with a slightly wedge-shaped profile, but it’s very comfortable to type on.

Logitech expects to fetch $100 for the K810, but the keyboard’s feature set and performance renders it worthy of that premium price tag.

Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard Microsoft’s take on ergonomics is that a keyboard should have subtle curves and plenty of padding. We actually dig it, but making the spacebar twice as wide as the other keys, splitting it two, and assigning the left side backspace functionality is a bridge too far. Fortunately, you can easily render the left spacebar a normal spacebar again.

There are dedicated Windows 8 shortcut keys for opening the Search, Share, Devices, and Settings charms, and Undo, Cut, Copy, New, and Open are printed on the Z, X, C, N, and O keys, respectively (in case your muscles haven’t memorized those Ctrl-plus combos). This keyboard doesn’t have a fancy backlight, but it’s priced right at $60.

Microsoft Sculpt Mobile Keyboard Microsoft packages its ergo concepts in a take-it-with-you model in the form of the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard. This $50 plank offers the same contoured shape of the Sculpt Comfort in a smaller, thinner, and lighter package, losing the padded wrist rest and the numeric keypad in the process.

The keys are full size, but the keyboard is so thin that there’s almost no well for them to travel down into. The Sculpt Mobile’s nearly flat design renders it awkward to use. Typing on this keyboard felt like tapping a 2×4. We’d almost rather use an on-screen keyboard.

Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard The Wedge Mobile’s lightweight, snap-on carrying case can also serve as a robust stand for your tablet, although it can maintain the tablet in only one position.

But this board’s key well is even shallower than the Sculpt Mobile’s. Plus, the keys are packed too tightly together, and they lack any texture. Those problems combined with the weak tactile feedback from the short throw had my fingertips running into each other like they were performing at a poorly choreographed dance recital.

Microsoft thinks the Wedge Mobile’s dual functionality renders the keyboard/stand combo worthy of a premium price tag: $80. We don’t.

Logitech Touch Mouse T620 Stroking the surface of the touch-sensitive Touch Mouse T260 with your fingertips is supposed to have the same impact as gestures performed on a touchscreen monitor. But it didn’t always work that way.

Gestures include swiping one fingertip in from the left edge to switch between applications, or from the right edge to open the Windows 8 Charms panel. Swiping left and right with one finger activates horizontal scrolling, while performing the same movement with two fingers moves backward and forward in your web browser history.

The surface of the mouse is devoid of texture, and there are no markings or to identify the areas you’re supposed to interact with.

Logitech Zone Touch Mouse T400 Logitech has replaced the middle button on the $50 Zone Touch T400 with a glass touch strip. Clicking the forward two-thirds of the strip takes you to the Windows 8 Start screen, while tapping the back two-thirds area opens a window that allows you to switch applications. Sliding your fingers left and right across the strip performs a horizontal scroll.

We liked the feel of the matte finish on top of the T400, and its rubber-coated sides render it easy to grip. But the device is too small for anyone with even average-sized hands. We hadn’t been using the mouse for more than an hour before ours curled into a painful claw.

Microsoft Touch Mouse We were almost ready to give up on the touch mouse concept after auditioning Logitech’s offerings, but Microsoft’s Touch Mouse changed our mind. The $80 price tag, on the other hand, is a little hard to swallow (and that’s apparently a common sentiment, because it’s currently on sale in the Microsoft store for $50).

The Touch Mouse can distinguish between gestures performed with one, two, or three fingers on its top surface, and it can perform other commands in response to thumb gestures on its side. Flick one finger to the left or right to scroll in the corresponding direction. Slide two fingers to the right to switch to your next open application, or slide them left to open the Windows 8.

Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse In our book, the best peripherals are simple to operate and comfortable to hold. Microsoft’s $50 Sculpt Touch Mouse offers three simple buttons, a comfortable shape, and Bluetooth support.

The four-direction middle mouse touch strip provides tactile feedback, so you know exactly where your fingertip is. Swipe quickly and send the page flying in that direction, which is perfect for scrolling through long documents.

The touch pad can be a little finicky when responding to pressure, but it’s generally a reliable device.

Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse The first time we grasped Microsoft’s Wedge Touch Mouse, our fingers overshot its buttons by a good inch and a half. The device has only enough room for your thumb and one finger to grasp either side and for your index finger to rest on top.

Touch capabilities are limited to just four-way scrolling: Slide your finger left or right to scroll horizontally, or stroke toward you or down and away to scroll vertically. There’s no pinch to zoom, browser history, or media-player control features, for example.

Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 If you’d like to ditch your mouse altogether, Logitech offers a very capable alternative with the wireless Touchpad T650. The 5.25-by-5.1-inch trackpad recognizes 12 distinct gestures and up to four touch points.

Mastering the Touchpad T650 takes practice, but if you’ve memorized all the Windows 8 gestures that a touch-screen display recognizes, you can use them all with this touchpad. Slide three fingers up the pad to bring up the Windows 8 start screen, or slide three fingers down the pad to show the desktop. You can spread two fingers apart to zoom in, or pinch two fingers together to zoom in.

Targus Touch Pen Months after the operating system’s rollout, Windows 8 notebooks with touchscreens remain few and far between. And if you’ve upgraded your old notebook, it’s even less likely to have a touchscreen. Attach the $100 Targus Touch Pen to your machine and bam! Instant touchscreen!

Installation is a bit of a hassle: You must stick a magnet to the laptop’s s bezel and attach a small receiver, and you need to use the pen stylus to perform touch commands (not your fingertip), but there aren’t any drivers to install, and the system works well. The pen is comfortable to hold and use and you’ll be able to use all of the gesture controls in Windows 8 just like you had a touchscreen.

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No Windows desktop mode!? No!

It comes as no surprise to anyone who reads my stories that I hate Windows 8’s Metro interface. I’m not alone. Lots of people hate it. But instead of switching back to an Aero-style interface, perhaps the most respected technical Windows writer out there, blogger Paul Thurrott, looked at the leaked Windows Blue release and thinks Microsoft is planning on dumping Windows Desktop mode entirely. No!

I’ve thought all along that one way Microsoft could save Windows 8 from its current market malaise if it would make its desktop mode the primary interface instead of Metro.

That isn’t what Thurrott sees happening though. In fact, he sees the exact opposite.

Thurrott wrote, “All the action in this build is in PC settings, and if you were looking for any further proof the desktop being eased out going forward, look no further than this. As noted in the previous report, there are a ton of new settings in there now, including many items that were previously only available in the desktop-based Control Panel interface. This is clearly an indication of how we get from here (Windows 8) to there (Windows 9, with potentially no desktop).” As further proof, he observed, “The default apps interface has been completely Metro-ized in this release.”

Some observers, like ComputerWorld’s Preston Gralla, agree with him: “There’s a reasonable chance that Microsoft will finally get around to killing the Desktop in Windows 9,” Gralla writes. “With Windows 8, Microsoft did its best to make the Desktop at best an afterthought, relegating it to a tile on the Start screen. Windows 8 has been built for touch and the horizontal orientation of a tablet, and the Desktop has no place in that world.”

Others, such as Byte’s Larry Seltzer, disagree: “Can anyone actually believe this? Earth to Paul: The Windows desktop is a major strength of the operating system, ‘especially’ as compared to the competition. There is an ocean of expertise and customized software out there on the Windows desktop, and Microsoft would never alienate these people.”

I’d agree with Seltzer, except… well, Microsoft is already alienating those users. I know some Windows 8 PC users. The majority of them zoom past Metro and get to a normal Windows Desktop as fast as possible. If Thurrott is right, Windows users will be locked into Metro once and for all. That will fly as well as a lead brick.

One source close to Microsoft told me he can’t see Microsoft dumping the desktop anytime soon. “There’s the little, itty-bitty problem of hundreds of thousands of desktop applications that will take years, if not longer, to migrate to WinRT API-based apps. Just bringing Office alone to WinRT will be a Manhattan Project.”

Of course, Microsoft does have one way around this problem: Move all its business apps to the cloud and make them software as a service (SaaS) apps. This fits in nicely with Ed Bott’s vision of Microsoft’s future as a cloud-based service provider with its own hardware line, Surface.

If moving its business applications to the cloud really is the plan, then Microsoft could indeed leave Windows 8’s desktop mode behind. I wouldn’t be happy about it, and I don’t see that I’d ever like Metro, but a combination of cloud services and Windows-based devices with Metro interfaces could win for Microsoft.

It’s beginning to look more and more like if you want a traditional desktop, you’re going to need to use Linux. Who’d thought it?

As a long-time desktop Linux user, that’s fine by me, but I wonder if Windows users really want to follow me to Linux, or if they’d rather just have a working, Aero-style desktop instead of a cloud-based Metro device? I’d bet they’d really rather have their fine old desktop anyday.

Feedly plans to launch Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 apps

In the past couple of weeks, we have reported on Google’s plans to shut down its Google Reader RSS service on July 1. In light of the news, other RSS reader services have experienced a huge spike of new users. That includes Feedly, which claimed it added a whopping 500,000 new users in the first 48 hours after Google revealed it would be closing Google Reader.

At the moment, Feedly has RSS plug ins for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox web browsers, along with free iOS and Android apps. But what about Microsoft platforms? In an interview to be published later today, Neowin asked Feedly’s Cyril Moutran, the head of its product and strategy, if the company is going to release any apps for Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone 8, along with BlackBerry 10. Moutran confirmed to us, “All three have been requested by users, and are in our plans.”

While he didn’t offer a specific release date for those new apps, it’s clear that Feedly knows there will be an audience for their RSS feed service for Microsoft-based platforms, even as Google is shutting down its own service. We will post the full interview with Moutran, where he gives us more information about Feedly’s overall plans, later today.

Fewer than 10 per cent of enterprise users even considering Windows 8 migration

Fewer than 10 per cent of UK enterprise users are basing decisions to refresh their technology estates on a Windows 8 migration, a Computing survey has revealed.

Respondents were asked for the main drivers behind their decisions to refresh or upgrade kit, and while 67 per cent said old and unreliable equipment was the biggest motivator, only 9.6 per cent stated that Windows 8, which has now been on sale since October 2012, was providing the impetus.

While 12.3 per cent admitted that Windows XP’s 2014 “end of life” was a concern, this was not apparently matched by a pressing desire to upgrade to Windows 8.

One IT services firm told Computing “the jury is out” on the OS, while a major PC manufacturer commented that changing the user interface so significantly meant a migration to Windows 8 is often viewed as being too costly for many firms to consider.

With web analytics firm Net Applications reporting back in February that Windows 8 accounted for only 2.67 per cent of the desktop market – compared to over nine per cent in Windows 7’s first four months – the operating system may well be struggling in an overcrowded OS market that is proving slightly more complex than the Microsoft-dominated world of the platform’s predecessors.

And with rumours circulating that Windows 8’s follow-up, “Windows Blue”, is to rear its head in the next few months, many are now predicting a “fire sale” for Windows 8 and its hardware dependents.

SMBs remain lukewarm to Windows 8: survey

A survey of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) on their use of mobile devices conducted for business software vendor Sage North America shows that SMBs remain lukewarm when it comes to the adoption of Windows 8.

The survey was of U.S. SMB decision makers, but the figures should be largely comparable to the Canadian market, although adoption rates of new technology often lag in Canada, compared to the U.S.

According to the survey, when asked of their company’s approach to Windows 8, by device, just 20 per cent are either using Windows 8 today on their desktops, or plan to within the next six months. Another 19.8 per cent have rejected it, while 23.4 per cent are considering it and 36.7 per cent are undecided.

For laptops, the figures are similar, with 20 per cent using it or planning to use it shortly. Some 19.8 per cent have said no, while 25.3 per cent are considering Windows 8 and 34.7 per cent are undecided.

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, the rejection numbers for Windows 8 are higher, at 30.2 per cent for each. Around 45 per cent are undecided on Windows 8 for each form factor, while around 16 per cent are considering it and less than 10 per cent are using it today, or plan to soon.

The survey wasn’t Windows 8-focused, however. Among its other findings, when SMB employees are working remotely, 81 per cent use their laptops, 80 per cent use their smartphones and 57 per cent are using tablets. And remote devices are viewed positively by decision makers, with 85 per cent saying it has had a positive impact on employee productivity.

The most common mobile applications used for business functions, contact organizers were the most popular, followed by scheduling tools and task management tools.

“For many businesses, the mobile device is an extension of the office,” said Joe Langner, executive vice-president of Sage North America, in a statement. “It affords workers the freedom to leave the office while maintaining the connectivity necessary to keep business objectives moving forward wherever they are. Mobility can support collaboration of internal teams by enabling seamless integration between the field and the office as well as eliminating potential bottlenecks between departments.”

It plays to the bring your own device (BYOD) trend, which has been gaining popularity, but also created security and device management issues for the IT team. The survey found that48 per cent of SMBs have a BYOD policy in place, while 31 per cent haven’t considered one and none per cent have decided against BYOD.

“Employees are looking to work beyond the ‘four walls.’ Take mobile salespeople, for example. They need as much data as possible to close a sale. They need to be able to access their catalog of items, create sales quotes, and even compare their sales number against their team’s performance and goals. With mobile business applications, they can do this anywhere; they’re no longer tethered to the office,” said Langner.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 updates with seamless Windows 8 support

With the announcement of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 back in July, Nuance has released a big update for the “world’s best-selling speech recognition software.” NaturallySpeaking 12 now features seamless integration with a few new Microsoft products, including Windows 8, as well as Office 2013 and Internet Explorer 10.

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Headlining the list of new features includes a 20% improvement to the accuracy of the voice recognition, as well as faster overall performance. NaturallySpeaking 12 includes some pretty neat features, like Smart Format Rules, that increases the accuracy of formatting sentences and structure based on the user’s input for punctuation and such.

Current users of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 will automatically get a free software update through a digital download notification, or can head to “Check for Updates” in the Help tab of the DragonBar. As for new customers, the update is ready for ordering, with more languages becoming available over the next couple of weeks.

Nuance’s products may not seems mainstream, but the company’s technology is used by Apple for theirSiri voice recognition system, as well as the voice dictation feature in OS X Mountain Lion. If you don’t have either, NaturallySpeaking 12 is a good choice for dictation. You can even hook up your Android phone to use as a microphone over your home WiFi.

Twitter App Now Officially Available For Windows 8

Microsoft has been ramping up its Windows Store slowly but surely, and on Thursday the company added Twitter to its selection of more than 40,000 apps. This is the first time Twitter’s official app has been made available on Microsoft’s newest OS, although the Windows Store has included Twitter clients such as MetroTwit in the past.

Twitter’s app for Windows 8 comes with features and tweaks catered specifically to the software. For example, Snap view allows users to open other apps alongside Twitter by “snapping” the window to the left or right of the screen. The Share charm feature enables tweeting from any app at any time by swiping in from the right edge of the screen. Naturally, Twitter’s app will appear as a Live Tile on the Windows 8 desktop and will send notifications no matter which app you’re currently running.

Twitter’s arrival in the Windows Store is one of few major updates for the social app this week. On Wednesday Twitter added the ability to insert line breaks in tweets, meaning users no longer have to limit their tweets to one or two lines.  The site is also reportedly preparing its own standalone music app, following its recent acquisition of music service We Are Hunted,CNET reports.

Last month Microsoft’s Windows Store surpassed the 40,000 app milestone after hitting the 100 million app download mark earlier this year. According to MetroStore Scanner, a site that unofficially tracks new additions to the Windows Store, Microsoft currently has 47,516 apps in its store.

“We feel good about where we are with Windows 8 — and of course there is still much more to do,” Tami Reller, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, wrote in a blog post last month.

Still, Apple’s iOS App Store boasts “hundreds of thousands” of mobile apps and its Mac App Store features thousands. Google’s Play store comes with 600,000 apps.