Microsoft hasn’t exactly said when it’ll bring Windows 8 to market — but all the signs are pointing to “very soon” being the answer to that particular question. Buy any new PC from right now, and you should be able to upgrade to Windows 8 when it does finally emerge for around 15 bucks; Microsoft never takes that upgrade step until a release is imminent, because it doesn’t want to harm sales by announcing a long lead time. You can’t sell a Windows PC without the “PC” part, though, and that’s where Microsoft’s hardware partners come in. At the recent Computex trade fair in Taiwan, PC makers showed off a variety of interesting new PC designs that go a little bit beyond the “traditional” desktop and laptop route.
Ultrabooks in many shapes and sizes were demonstrated, most running Intel’s new “Ivy Bridge” CPUs; the advantage there is a slight power saving for a fairly considerable — so Intel says — performance boost. Where things got interesting was in the variety of designs that’ll take Microsoft’s “Metro” interface and run with it. Metro’s a radical rethinking of how you actually use a computer interface, at least from a traditional Windows viewpoint. There is a desktop underneath it for the traditionalists, but everything is represented with much larger tiles that are touch-friendly; the idea here is that the interface will be the same across desktop, laptop and, critically for Microsoft, tablets. But how do you reach across a keyboard to get to a touch panel, and why would you want to?
The answer to the latter part is pretty simple: You don’t — at least for some of the more out there designs, such as Acer’s W510 tablet that can rotate through a full 295 degrees, leaving the tablet screen facing you directly rather than the keyboard. Or Asus’ Transformer Book, an ultrabook-looking device with a fully detachable screen, so you can use it as a normal notebook for most functions and then as a tablet when the need emerges. It’s not just limited to the notebook form factor either; Asus also showed off the Transformer AIO, an all-in-one computer system that shares the same clippable design as the Transformer Book. With an 18.4 inch display, that’s one sizeable tablet.
As to why you’d want to”¦ well, that gets a little trickier, although consumers have shown they’re keen on iPads, and to a lesser extent Android tablets. Microsoft’s made considerable investments in making sure that — so it says — there’ll be enough touch-enabled applications for Windows 8 users when it launches. That’s historically been the problem with touch on Windows; there’s been the capability all the way back to Windows XP Tablet Edition, but no great critical mass of software that uses touch in a way that makes sense. A wealth of touch-enabled apps and new types of PCs might make that critical difference.