Do touch screens belong on PCs? A debate

Our editors argue about efficiency, ease of use, gunky screens and 'gorilla arm'

With Windows 8, Microsoft is bringing touch-screen interaction from tablets and smartphones to traditional PCs. Many Windows 8 ultrabooks and tablet/laptop hybrids include touch, and some desktop computers do as well.

Apple, on the other hand, has steadfastly maintained that users don't want touch screens on traditional computers; it confines multi-touch gestures for its laptops and desktops to trackpads and mice.

So is touch on traditional computers the wave of the future, or another misbegotten Microsoft interface mistake, like Clippy?

Computerworld contributing editor Preston Gralla and reviews editor Barbara Krasnoff have both used touch-screen laptops running Windows 8, but they came away with very different opinions about the usefulness of this approach. Check out their arguments, then vote in our poll or weigh in with your own opinion in the comments, below.

Ready, set, fight!

Preston Gralla: I'm a big fan of touch interfaces -- with two iPads, a pair of Android tablets, three Nooks, two Kindles and a passel of Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 smartphones, I have to be. But touch makes sense on those devices. It makes no sense on the desktops, notebooks and ultrabooks that we're seeing from PC makers.

Since the early days of Windows 8 previews, I've been using a Windows 8 tablet essentially as a notebook by standing it up vertically on a base station and connecting a keyboard and mouse to it. From the beginning, I forced myself to use touch as well as the keyboard and mouse.

But over time, even though I've constantly reminded myself to use touch, I've used it less and less. Why? It takes more time to use touch. It's often harder to navigate with touch. It's a productivity-killer. It's just plain annoying.

Try to do something simple like browse through your hard disk using File Explorer or open a file in Microsoft Office using touch. It's immeasurably more difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming than simply tapping a key or two, or making fine movements and clicks with a mouse.

Barbara Krasnoff: When I first saw the touch-screen computers being shown during the introduction of Windows 8, I was a little leery myself. Like you, I'm a longtime desktop/laptop user, and I'm extremely keyboard-centric (perhaps because I cut my first computer-user teeth on DOS systems).

However, I took a touch-capable ultrabook (an Acer Aspire S7) to CES this year, and while I typed away, I found myself using the touch screen rather than the mouse a lot more than I thought I would. It was a quicker and, quite honestly, more intuitive way to select a new tab, push an onscreen button or even place the cursor. And it was much easier for me than using the touchpad on the keyboard -- even when I was working in the Desktop interface (which was most of the time).

I admit that sometimes I had to go to the mouse for more detailed movements -- as when I needed to drop the cursor between two letters within a word -- but for the most part, pointing and touching (rather than pointing and clicking) became the norm.

PG: Every time you move your hand from your keyboard, mouse or touchpad to your screen you're interrupting your workflow and train of thought. You're spending far more time on simple tasks than you need to.

BK: How long has it been since moving your hand from your keyboard was an interruption? We've been using mice for a long time, but I remember when many computer users preferred to memorize long lists of keyboard shortcuts rather than have to move a hand from the keyboard to the mouse and back again.

As for the touchpad, I've always found it a less-than-useful replacement for a mouse. While long use has allowed me to reach for a mouse without having to look for it (partly because my hand can fit itself to the form factor), a touchpad means I have to move my hand off the keypad itself and readapt to a small, highly inconvenient square below the keyboard.

In addition, most touchpads are so sensitive that I am constantly moving the cursor to a place where I don't want it to be, or accidentally opening/closing tabs or applications. Talk about workflow interruptions! Touchpads are my enemy as far as that's concerned.

Debate continues on next page >>

QuickPoll: Would you buy a touch-screen PC?

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