Will Windows 8 introduce a new era of touch computing?

Now that the formal introduction of Windows 8 is over with, we can get to the interesting part: Whether the dozens of new products from vendors such as Samsung, Asus, Acer, Sony, Dell, Lenovo, etc. etc. will actually, over the course of the next year, persuade people to make the switch from the Windows XP, Vista and 7 systems they've been using up to now.

From what I've seen, although upgrading to Windows 8 is relatively inexpensive (if you bought a Windows PC after June 2, you can upgrade for $14.99; if your PC is older, it will cost $39.99 to upgrade from Windows XP or later), I haven't been convinced that it is something that most users will want to do. Sure, the interface is snazzy looking, and there have been reports that Windows 8 does speed up the performance of your system.

But there's no getting around the fact (no matter how much Microsoft tries to persuade us otherwise) that the Windows 8 interface is geared toward touch displays -- so if you don't already have a touch display, it may not be worth the time necessary to get used to the new interface.

On the other hand, those who have been thinking of getting a new machine sudden have a vast array of choices to consider. Starting this week, and going into the next few months, vendors are going to be offering a variety new Ultrabooks, laptops, all-in-ones, tablets and convertibles -- systems that change from a tablet to a laptop, either by moving the display onto the keyboard, or separating the two altogether. And most of those will have touch screens.

What Microsoft is essentially doing is moving touch from the realm of the completely mobile ( tablets and phones) to the sometimes mobile (laptops) and the never mobile (desktop all-in-ones). Oh, there were some touch-capable laptops and all-in-ones available previously, but they were mostly kludged to offer a few touch apps over a non-touch operating system. Now, the point of the operating system will be to encourage using touch over keyboard.

Any change in the attitude of buyers will probably not happen quickly. While there are many out there who are willing to shell out immediately for the Next Big Thing in hardware, in my experience, most consumers -- and, certainly, most businesses -- are not going to suddenly start opening their wallets, especially if they're happy with their current systems.

But over the next two or three years, a lot of Windows users will be looking to upgrade their hardware. And when they do -- and especially if the prices aren't too different -- they will probably be looking at devices with touch screens.

The thought occurs to me: If Microsoft actually succeeds in changing users' expectations in what they want from their hardware, will competing companies such as Apple start looking at creating laptops and other larger devices with touch screens as well? Will Microsoft finally have created an actual user trend?

That would be an interesting switch.

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