Giving Windows 8 a Second Chance

After a disastrous experience with a Lenovo Helix and Windows 8, I’m giving the operating system a second chance -- this time on a Lenovo ThinkPad 8 built specifically for business users.

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ThinkPad 2I have to admit, I love electronics and gadgets. I love playing with the newest PCs, phones and tablets. You can find me at mall kiosks and geek bars putting machines through the paces. So, when Intel offered me a business-class Windows 8 tablet to try out, I jumped. I already have two tablets -- an Amazon Kindle Fire and Samsung Note 10.1 -- both running Android. My wife has two iPads -- a regular and Mini. And my PCs are all Windows 7.

As some of you may have read, I’ve already had a disappointing experience with Windows 8 when I bought a defective Lenovo Helix. The machine had faults, but I found Windows 8 to have too many limitations and drawbacks to make it a viable machine.

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Intel didn’t say which brand of tablet they were sending. I wasn’t surprised when the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 tablet arrived. Although Acer Inc., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Samsung Electronics Co. and Toshiba International Corp. have good business-class machines, their Windows 8 tablet fleets are geared toward consumers. Microsoft positions its Surface tablets as business-friendly, but it too is a consumer product.

During the unboxing, I promised myself I wouldn’t hold my Helix experience against Lenovo or Microsoft. My trial with the ThinkPad 2 would be clean slate.

So far, my impression of the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 is generally positive. The tablet is light and fast, the screen resolution is crystal clear, and the battery life seems as long as the 10-hour rating, but I haven’t put it to the full test.

Intel provided an accessory kit: a docking station that turn the tablet into a desktop replacement. I bought a Bluetooth keyboard. Intel gave no instructions and set no expectations for sending the tablet, but I want to see if a tablet could truly replace a PC for business use.

Since receiving the tablet on Wednesday, I’ve been putting it through its paces, setting it up with the applications and connections I use the most. This is the usual fare -- Exchange e-mail, plus various file-sharing and common business apps.

The arrival of the keyboard made using the tablet for information creation versus consumption much easier. And the tablet itself performs flawlessly.

However, I have to say out of the gate, the limitation isn’t so much with Lenovo’s machine. And, I suspect my experience thus far would be the same regardless of brand. The real problem is Windows 8. As was my experience with the Lenovo Helix, Windows 8 is far too restrictive compared to previous versions of Windows, and not nearly as easy to navigate as an Android or Apple tablet.

Microsoft touts the ability to move its tiles around into groups that best match user preferences. Moving those tiles proves an exercise in finger acrobatics. It takes several attempts to get a title to move -- much less getting one to move the mile from one end of the interface to the other.

Windows 8: Security & Functionality

Security is obviously at the forefront of Microsoft’s thinking in Windows 8 design. Microsoft compels users to create an account that links to cloud services. This is also the security foundation; Microsoft compels an eight-digit mixed alphanumeric password. However, Microsoft’s virtual keyboard only has letters on one screen, numbers on another and symbols on a third. For someone who has a truly secure password, getting access requires jumping between screens.

There is an option for a virtual keyboard that resembles an ergonomic layout with the numeric pad in the middle. While this is a reasonable solution to the password problem, it’s not easy for those of us with fat fingers.

The password issue is a minor problem compared to the functionality of Windows 8. Trying to use this tablet as a PC replacement proves frustrating as it’s obvious that Microsoft doesn’t know what it wants Windows 8 to be -- a PC or tablet operating system. Some applications want to operate as if on a PC; others on a tablet. The problem: The experience isn’t consistent, and the conflict often causes complications.

Equally obvious is Microsoft's preference to applications written for Windows 8. Internet Explorer performs as if it were built for a tablet. Google Chrome -- my preferred browser -- performs exclusively as if it’s on a PC.

Through this tablet, I have finally found a use for Microsoft OneNote. I’ve already started taking notes on the tablet in OneNote, which are automatically synched to my desktop and notebook PCs. This is a good addition, as note-taking is as common as breathing for me. However, this feature is common in similar Apple and Google apps.

Some application developers haven’t caught up to Microsoft in building or amending apps for Windows 8. The Microsoft app store is missing many of the common applications (and games) that are readily available through Apple and Android. This is probably an economic issue; Google and Apple own 95 percent of the tablet market; Microsoft is a distant third player that isn’t threatening to break 10 percent market share anytime soon.

I feel somewhat guilty writing about Windows 8 and my Windows tablet experience after already rendering an opinion. This is amplified by the pending release of Windows 8.1 which may change my entire experience. But that release is still a month away.

I’m committing to using this Windows tablet through the end of November and will compare and contrast the experiences of Windows 8 and 8.1. As longtime Microsoft customer and Windows user, I hope Microsoft gets it right.

Much more to come.

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