Windows 8 will support traditional mouse and keyboard use, but its brand new Metro interface also works well with stumpy fingers and a touchscreen.
Windows 8 supports mouse and keyboard use, but the Metro interface really shines when used on a touch screen. Opening, closing and manipulating Metro apps with fingers is fluid, fast and remarkably intuitive.
Swiping, pinching windows and selecting Metro tiles works, without too much hyperbole, beautifully on Windows 8. A swipe to the left opens a Charm window with tiles for all active apps. Select an app from this list by swiping it to the right, and it opens in full–screen mode.
Swiping down the Start screen opens the All Apps Charm menu. If you swipe down while in an active app, however, you open the menu options for that application.
You move through the Start screen by swiping the mouse to the left or right, producing instant results. Swipe up or down on a Start screen tile and you access the same options available when you right–click the tile with a mouse. You can zoom in by stretching two fingers across the screen.
Dragging and dropping tiles is also intuitive. Leave your finger on the screen and the tile travels along with your finger until you release. Swiping a tile quickly sets it moving in the direction you want it to go, and it continues moving until you tap it or it runs out of room.
When you drag and drop an app you'll notice a slight pause after you release the tile. Windows 8 provides this pause to give you time to change your mind if you dragged the tile to the wrong location. Microsoft calls these pauses "speed bumps" or, if you like more of a sci–fi feel to your computer terminology, "gravity wells." While it might seem like pauses would interfere with the touch experience, they feel very natural.
Windows 8 includes two touch screen keyboards: a full sized keyboard for word processing and a simple thumb keyboard for texting or jotting down notes on the go. Both keyboards are responsive, and a predictive spelling feature offers suggestions for words as you type.
You can also write directly on the screen with either a finger or stylus. Finger writing is slow, but gets the job done. Stylus writing, when combined with an app that supports handwriting, is remarkably fast and accurate.
The touch interface works well in Internet Explorer, with one or two small quibbles. Swiping across the screen moves you to the previous page or the next page, depending on whether you swipe to the right or left. Swiping up and down scrolls through the Web page.
Clicking a link is as easy as tapping it. Windows 8 does a good job of predicting if you meant to tap a link, so you don't have to be too accurate: clicking close to the link works. This does mean, however, that you need to avoid tapping links when you just meant to tap an empty section of screen.
The operating system stumbles a little when you try to select text from a browser window. Once you tap the screen you can drag your finger across the text, but you have to be accurate with that first tap. While not a huge issue, selecting text feels clumsy compared to the touch interface's overall ease of use.
Overall, Microsoft has succeeded in creating a fluid and easy–to–master touch–screen interface, especially when working with Metro apps. The operating system may not provide more options than other touch–screen systems, but its intuitive interface works well in comparison with Apple and Android systems.