Category: Computer Hardware Design

The Badgy card printer–a tool to turn out custom ID cards and short-run plastic cards

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Badgy

Badgy Card Printer – Design & Print id badges on plastic pvc cards

My Comments

A common question for anyone in business is what tools do exist for printing out plastic cards in short runs whether with the same design or populated with particular data such as a person’s details for an ID or membership card. Situations may include turning out membership or ID cards on an “as-required, while-you-wait” basis such as for late attendees at a conference or new library members, or making a test print of a card design to see how it looks.

There is a machine that can do this in colour in the form of the Badgy dye-sublimation card printer. This unit, which connects to a regular computer via USB, can print up cards using a ribbon that has a 100-card yield and can work with thin or thick cards. It can work with third-party cards such as magstripe and smart cards, but can’t encode any of the machine-readable cards itself.

It is based around you downloading templates with pre-designed art from the site and using the supplied software to turn out the cards. Of course, this unit would use a Windows printer driver so you could press your desktop-publishing software in to printing to these cards as long as they have the ability to print to the standard “credit-card” size, which is supplied by the driver software as a defined paper size. This could include the ability to use the software to turn out ID cards using the software’s mail-merging abilities or turn out short-run “for approval” card designs before you commit to a large card-print run.

The fact that it doesn’t encode the magstripe or smart cards shouldn’t phase you as long as you have a separate machine which encodes these cards. This wouldn’t be an issue with, for example, a hotel-based conference or event application where you may turn out ID or participant cards which are to be used as guest-room keycards. In this case, the workflow would require the staff member to transfer the card between the Badgy machine and the card encoder to create a useable custom-printed keycard which is the event ID card.

The cost per card would typically be AUD$0.88 per thin card or AUD$0.96 per thick card. But to develop this concept further, it could be feasible to work with other cheaper methods like ink-jet printing for these short-run applications appealing to small businesses. At least this machine is for plastic cards like the colour laser or high-volume inkjet printer is for brochures and stationery.

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HP now issues the fastest small-business desktop inkjet printer

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Hewlett-Packard

HP Officejet Pro X Printers with HP PageWide Technology (Product Site)

My Comments

HP have joined Brother in raising the bar for wet-ink-based printing. What Brother have done is to develop a compact inkjet multifunction printer that works the printhead along the long edge of the paper rather than the short edge to allow for this compact design.

But HP have taken things differently by using a stationary “full-width” printhead in their latest run of desktop business inkjet printers known as the OfficeJet Pro X. Here, this avoids the need for a small printhead to move back and forth to print across the page. This has allowed these printers to achieve print speeds of around 70 pages per minute for the premium models in the series and 55 pages per minute for the standard models in the series.

The stationary “full-width” printhead is a technology used in some of the digital printing presses used by an increasing number of print shops to turn out short-order process-colour printing jobs for small businesses and community organisations at cost-effective prices.  As well as this high-speed feature that HP promotes, there is the obvious reduction in mechanical parts needed in the printer, which gives other benefits like increased reliability and reduced operating noise.

As for costs, these printers sell at prices that are comparable to a lot of the high-end desktop colour laser printers like the Brother HL-4150CDN and they have a similar duty cycle to these machines. There may be still some further questions to raise such as the cost of the ink cartridges for these machines.

On the other hand, HP could even take this technology further with other printer classes such as using the stationary inkjet printhead in areas dominated by the thermal-paper printing method such as receipt and label printers. It may also be interesting to see whether Epson or Brother may integrate the stationary-printhead technology with their piezoelectric “pump-method” ink-delivery methods as another competing high-speed inkjet system.

Of course, who knows what kind of game-changing technologies would appear in many of the different product classes.

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Touchscreen interfaces becoming more relevant for regular computing

Article

Touchscreens | Apple | Mac | PC | Macbooks | Photos

My Comments

Increased relevance to regular desktop computing

Windows 8 Modern UI start screen

Windows 8 “Modern UI” start screen – optimised for touchscreens

Since Windows 8 with its “Modern” user interface came on to the scene late last year, the touchscreen has been valued as a part of the regular computer rather than an option for some business computers or for use with mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones.

Here, the touchscreens in this computing context are seen as a complementary third method to control the computer. It comes in handy with coarse navigation of the user interface, especially with selecting options or working “at-a-glance” dashboards like the “Modern” UI that is your start point in Windows 8. You can also flick across material you are reading or viewing such as text you are “skimming” or a PowerPoint presentation. This is something I have experienced for myself when I reviewed the Fujitsu TH550M convertible, the Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one and the HP Envy X2 detachable-keyboard “hybrid” tablet. The HP, for that matter, was the first touchscreen computer that I reviewed with Windows 8.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

HP Envy X2 detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet computer

As we already know, the consumer tablet computers like the Apple iPad drew us towards the touchscreen paradigm. But Windows 8 plus some variants of desktop Linux had integrated touchscreen computing from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

Apple missing out on the touchscreen trend with the Macintosh

The article that I cite raised the issue that Apple weren’t equipping the Macintosh regular-computing platform with touchscreens even though other platforms that serve the same usage style were equipped with this feature. This is because they see the regular-computing platform of being comparatively little value to the iOS mobile-computing platform. It is similar to how they added on the mouse and the 3.5” floppy disk to the Apple II platform in 1987 even though the Macintosh, which was the “new baby” with both these options commercialised these features from the day it was launched in 1984.

On the other hand, Apple could enable the MacOS X operating system with touch control as part of a major upgrade then roll out the functionality in to the MacBook and iMac lineups as well as offer a Desktop Display with touch abilities.

Other gaps in the touchscreen computing trend

Speaking of this, there aren’t many add-on touchscreen monitors available at a reasonable price for use with the regular “tower” desktop. This is more so with monitors sold through larger technology chains that pitch at the small business or the consumer. Typically, you may find that these places offer a touchscreen monitor that is a smaller size and pitched for the POS system, thus sold at a price that is considered ridiculous for regular desktop computing.

Personally, I would rather see more of the touchscreen monitors being available at a slight premium above a non-touch variant of a particular monitor screen size and resolution. Here, one could set up a multi-screen arrangement with one touch-enabled monitor and use the touch-enabled monitor as, for example, a persistent “Modern UI” control screen. This could then lead to a gradual upgrade path for those of us who want the “all-touch” user interface across the multiple screens.

Conclusion

Of course, these comments may be too early to make as Windows 8 and the “open-frame” computing crowd makes the touchscreen display mature quickly and more software authors integrate touch in to their software and games.

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What could the dynamic E-ink keyboard mean?

Article

This Dynamic E-Ink Keyboard Needs To Become A Real Thing | Gizmodo Australia

My Comments

There have been many attempts and prototypes put forward in relation to a computer keyboard that uses dynamic labelling but a lot of these attempts yielded extremely-expensive implementaions.

Why bring about a keyboard with dynamically-labelled keys? One application would be to allow a user to implement a language-specific keyboard layout without having to rely on confusing labelling. Think of a German-speaking user who wants to implement the “QWERTZ” layout or a French-speaking user who wants the “AZERTY” layout, let alone keyboard layouts for the Hebrew, Japanese or other languages that don’t use Latin scripts.

Similarly, you could see implementations like “function key” grids that have keys labelled according to the program or situation. The obvious applications could include CAD/CAM/computer graphics with one touch access to often used commands and shapes; retail / hospitality POS with one-touch access to products and transaction types; let alone hardcore gamers wanting keyboards where they can “drop” actions to gain an upper-hand on their opponents.

For that matter, there could be one keyboard design for accessory keyboards that can be sold around the world, able to be connected to a Windows / Linux or Macintosh computer and showing the layout for the country that it is used in. Similarly a laptop manufacturer could show up with a keyboard that implements a keyboard layout that is particular to a user’s language.

Here, the proposed keyboards would use the E-ink technology that is used in the Amazon Kindle or other e-book readers. This technology would avoid extra layers and the need to keep refreshing the display area. Instead the E-ink’s weaknesses concerning animation may not be of concern for this application and allow for a cheaply-produced dynamically-labeled keyboard or keypad.

Of course, the USB and Bluetooth “human-interface-device” logical device classes would need to be updated to support dynamic labelling for keyboards and the operating systems would need to implement this as part of their class drivers for this device class. Initially we could see manufacturers implementing this function with device drivers and other manufacturer-specific software but there needs to be the action to implement this concept as a device class.

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The EU stands behind the creation of a “semiconductor Airbus”

Article – French language

L’UE appelle à la création d’un « Airbus des puces » | Le Monde Informatique (France)

My Comments

The European Union does play host to some electro-technical activity, whether in the form of research or design and manufacture of finished product. Think of names like Philips, Pace (set-top box applications), Loewe, B&O, Nokia and Siemens amongst many others when it comes to finished applications. Or you may think of Acorn who has built up the ARM microarchitecture used in most smartphones and tablets or B&O who have built up the ICEPower reference design for high-quality Class-D switching power amplifiers. As far as semiconductors and microelectronics are concerned, STMicroelectronics is the only European representative in the 10 main semiconductor companies.

But there has been a call for the European Union to strengthen a European-grown microelectronics industry. They effectively want to see a “digital Airbus” or “Airbus for semiconductors”. This is where Airbus, the France-based European aerospace name, has become associated with building the impressive airliners like the A380 superjumbo and been in a position to challenge established players like he US-based Boeing.

Here, the European Commission wants to launch an industrial plan to seed the European semiconductor industry by making Europe financially attractive to invest in for this industry. This encompasses the research and development aspect; as well as production of the components; and they want the European Union and its constituent Member States to work together on this.

What I see of this is that the European “finished-products” names could move towards the local “Airbus for semiconductors” once they see that the products can work well with their finished-product designs. Similarly, if this company can answer established firms like Intel, AMD and NVIDIA for CPU or graphics-processor designs, this could be a chance for Europe to facilitate a lively competitive microprocessor market.

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The perfect expansion module for those Ultrabooks

Article

VMultra bundles USB hub, DVD drive, SD slot and 500GB HDD to form ultimate laptop peripheral — Engadget

My Comments

Previously, I have written some articles on the USB-connected expansion modules that can extend the functionality of those Ultrabooks and similar ultraportable computers. Here, I was

This included my reviewing a Sony VAIO Z Series premium ultraportable that was equipped with one of these modules that had an integrated slot-load Blu-Ray player.

But what amazes me about this particular VMultra expansion module is that it is effectively acting as a “storage hub” with an SD card reader, DVD burner and a 500Gb hard disk, thus adding at least three extra drive letters or disk icons to your computer. This also is effectively adding on an external hard disk to the computer for use in keeping “main office” work on the desk while you have “portable” work in the computer. Expect this unit to be equipped with a USB 3.0 host interface as well as a multi-port USB hub that most likely continuously self-powered so you can also charge those gadgets off it.

This could become the start of the expansion module that is more about a virtual system unit for an ultraportable, being equipped with onboard secondary storage, DisplayLink video functionality, audio functionality and the like to be kept as an “at home” or “at office” option.

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Why purchase as much storage capacity as you can afford when you buy a computing device

Toshiba Tecra R950 business laptop

Toshiba Tecra R950 business laptop

Very often, I notice people who are buying a computer, tablet or similar device purchase the device based on the price without thinking of the issue of the unit’s secondary-storage capacity.

But in most situations, the cheaper variants of these devices have lesser storage capacity. This may not be an issue if the device is serving as a secondary computing device and you are likely to either use a auxiliary storage devices like external hard disks, removable SD cards or cloud-hosted / network-hosted storage with the device regularly. What can happen as you use that iPad or laptop is that the main storage capacity fills up and it feels as though there is a noose around your neck as there is less storage capacity on your device for you to store programs or data. In some situations, the device doesn’t perform as well as it should.

You also think of having to frequently purge your system of data that may be “put away” but is to be on hand for use at a later time. In some cases, this activity may cause you to dump data that you may later regret dumping.

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer

But you can avoid this with new computing devices especially those you expect to use as your main computing devices if you buy or specify as much storage capacity as you can afford. For example, I encouraged someone who was in the market for an iPad to think of the higher-capacity models because people tend to have them full of photos, music, email and apps very quickly.

In most cases, your device’s storage capacity can be a key bargaining point when choosing that device. For example, you may have something of AUD$100-200 between one storage class and another more capacious storage class for a tablet or a laptop. Some dealers may also try to offer the variant with more capacity for the same price as the model that you are after and have budgeted on.

There is also a reality that as time passes on, the cost of data storage does reduce for a particular capacity due to Moore’s Law.

So if I buy or specify a computing device for someone, especially if the device is expected to be a main or sole computing device, I would make sure that there is as much hard disk, SSD or other storage space as you can afford.

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DisplayLink Now Compatible with Windows 8

Article

DisplayLink Now Compatible with Windows 8#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181

From the horse’s mouth

Product Page

Press release

My Comments

DisplayLink have updated their class driver for their USB-based “plug and display” infrastructure in order to satisfy Windows 8’s needs. Primarily this is to benefit tablet computers, convertibles, Ultrabooks and other similar portable Windows 8 computers to allow them to work with larger screens or display-adaptor modules and expose the displays to what Windows 8 can offer.

For example, there is the ability to use both the Start user interface and the regular desktop user interface across the different displays that are linked using this system. Similarly, a manufacturer could offer a touch-enabled monitor-dock that uses this connection interface as a point of innovation and Windows 8 users can still use this touch-enabled screen as a control surface for their portable Windows 8 computer.

It still can work across all USB connection types through the use of data-compression techniques for the common USB 2.0 setup. As well, the adaptors will support a resolution 2560×1152 per screen depending on the bandwidth, which can allow for the new high-pixel-density displays.

What I see of this is that the USB-based expansion modules (docking stations) will still be relevant to the Windows 8 touch-focused computing era as they are with Windows 7 and before.

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Touch-enabled Windows 8 computers–where to go

Introduction

I am writing this piece about the newer crop of Windows-8 computers that will be equipped for touchscreen computing. This will explain the different types that will be available and how to get on board this platform.

Types

Portable

Tablet

This class of Windows 8 portable is a simple touch-sensitive tablet that can come with a keyboard and mouse. If you don’t have the keyboard with the computer and you want to do some text entry, these computers will use a touchscreen virtual keyboard for this purpose. Because Windows 8 uses the Bluetooth and USB class drivers for input devices, you can use third-party keyboards and mice that connect via these interface methods. This can come in handy with using the Bluetooth keyboard attachments that are available for iPads and Android tablets.

An extension of this class is Sony’s VAIO Tap 20 which is a 20” tablet that isn’t considered all that portable. Here, this one works with supplied keyboard and mouse accessories but can work as a tablet. It also has a kickstand so it can work like the typical all-in-one computer.

Detachable-keyboard hybrid

These portable computers use a supplied detachable keyboard module that clips to the screen. They take this example from the Android-powered ASUS Transformer Prime and operate in two different forms.

The inexpensive varieties have the keyboard and, in some cases, a trackpad just as a controller device powered by the tablet. But most of the desirable variants would have extra functionality in the detachable keyboard such as an extra battery, USB ports, etc. Here, the computer can benefit from a large range of extra abilities when the user wants to enjoy these benefits.

Convertible

Here, the screen swivels or folds over to become a tablet or the computer can open and close like a regular laptop. An example of this type that I reviewed was the Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M that I previously reviewed and you might be able to claw for cheap on the secondhand market. This is one of the classes of computer that can benefit those of us who want to use the computer for a lot of text entry like working on documents or Excel spreadsheets. Similarly, they can he angled in a manner that benefits viewing or showing content like pictures, PowerPoint presentations, video or Web pages.

The simpler variants fold over so that the keyboard is exposed whereas other types have the screen swivel vertically on a pedestal or horizontally through a frame. These ones may have an increased risk of damage if you try to rotate the screen further in a similar way to what can happen with most digital cameras that have the fold-out screens.

Slider convertible

These computers such as the Sony VAIO Duo 11 appear like a tablet in normal use. But the keyboard on them slides out from underneath the screen and the screen can be tilted up using an integrated kickstand.

Most of them may, at the most, use an integrated thumbstick as the secondary pointing device. Here, you may find that the Bluetooth wireless mouse may be more important for these computers if you want that gradual pointing or scrolling ability that these devices have.

Touch-enabled laptop

The mainstream portable option may simply be a regular clamshell laptop computer that is equipped with a touchscreen. The manufacturers would find this easier to offer as an incremental option for their designs thus offering it across the board.

Most manufacturers are offering as a cheaper alternative a laptop that doesn’t have a touchscreen. Instead these machines use a highly-optimised trackpad that is flush with the palmrest, perhaps with a ridge surround the trackpad. This provides proper support for multi-finger touch operation thus providing some support for Windows 8’s touch gestures. This may be a confusing experience for you if you are working your laptop at one area while you view the screen at another area.

For customers, this could be a cost-effective entry point to the touch-enabled Windows 8 experience for a portable or transportable application.

Desktop

Touch-enabled all-in-one

Most all-in-one Windows desktop computers, like the Sony VAIO J Series that I previously reviewed, will have a touchscreen but Windows 8 and its Metro user interface would make the touchscreen come in to its own on these computers. A few of these computers are gaining respect as far as performance is concerned, thus allowing them to be used for intense gaming, video editing or other intense work.

Regular desktop with touchscreen monitor

Most of us who have regular desktop computers and want to upgrade to Windows 8 could upgrade the monitor to a touch-enabled screen. Similarly a newer regular desktop, whether tower-style or low-profile, could be specified with a touchscreen monitor.

The touch-enabled monitors nay require a USB connection to the host computer as well as the DVI or HDMI video connection.

At the moment, it may be hard to look for a reasonably-priced touchscreen monitor, especially with the preferred DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort sockets. This is because quite a lot of computer retailers, especially the “big-box” retailers, don’t sell them at all or sell them at an exorbitant price. The best result may be to do some online shopping or visit independent computer specialists for these monitors.

Confusing issues

Already own a tablet

If you already own an iPad or Android tablet, you may think that purchasing a touch-enabled Windows computer isn’t necessary. This is even though you may use the iPad or Android tablet with an accessory keyboard to create content.

In some ways, the touch-enabled Windows 8 computer may be a way of extending the touch-driven computing experience you started to enjoy with your mobile-platform-based tablet. Here, you could think of working with a touch-enabled large-screen laptop as a main or sole computer with the tablet serving as a casual-use unit. Similarly equipping the desktop computer for touch computing, whether through purchasing an touch-capable all-in-one or adding a touch-enabled monitor to the existing desktop may achieve this goal.

Similarly, you may own a Windows 7 computer that has an integrated touchscreen or is hooked up to a touchscreen monitor. Here, if the computer is equipped to modern specifications such as a recent-standard processor and at least 2Gb of RAM, preferable at least 4Gb, it may be a good break to update this unit to Windows 8.

Considering a touch-enabled computer less productive

Some of you may find that the touch-enabled computer less productive. This can be so if you expect to enter a lot of text such as working on spreadsheets or preparing copy. It may not be a worry if you just compose short emails or work the Social Web.

These kind of users should place value on a keyboard as being part of the computer and use the touchscreen primarily for navigation and coarse selection purposes. The main screen in Windows 8 does work properly with the touchscreen as do applications that are written ground-up for Windows 8.

The touch-enabled virtual keyboard can come in to its own in a few situations such as entering foreign-language characters, especially those languages with non-Roman alphabets. This can be enabled if you can implement different keyboard layouts for the virtual keyboard and the hardware keyboard. As well, the virtual keyboard can be useful for entering confidential data if you use a desktop computer that you suspect has been equipped with a keystroke-capture hardware “bug”.

Windows RT computers

There are some tablets and detachable-keyboard hybrid computers out there that use ARM processors and run the Windows RT variant of this operating system. One example of this is the Microsoft Surface detachable-keyboard hybrid. These won’t be able to run the software that is currently available for the Windows platform because this software is written to work on the Intel microarchitecture.

Rather, you have to download extra software from the Windows Store which is the integrated app store for the Windows 8 / Windows RT platform. There will be some software like a home-student variant of Office on these computers so you can “get going” with this platform.

Software in the Windows 8 touchscreen world

The iOS and Android mobile operating environments have exposed the world of touchscreen computing to the consumer. This will lead to various expectations for how the user interface will be designed for various classes of program.

A good place to start for finding this software is the Windows Store which is the platform’s app store. As with all app stores, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to sift through the poor-quality “shareware-grade” software to find the good-quality gems. For example, I would start with the official clients for the online services you use or Windows-8 ports of known software titles from known authors.

Web-browsing

This will become a “chrome-free” application with you having to “drag” to the window edge to call up browser functions or the address bar. In Windows 8, there will be some reliance on the Charms Bar which is selected from the right of the screen for some functions like searching.

Office applications

This class of application would benefit from touch, more as a way to locate the cursor to a point in the text or a particular cell or object in the document. You would still use the cursor keys or the mouse for fine-tuning the location of the object.

These applications would have you touch items on the ribbon bars to instigate processes or select options. In some ways, you could see “full-screen” dashboards being used to select options such as creating new documents or applying themes.

Of course, the keyboard and mouse still remain as the tools to remain productive in these applications. Here this would encompass creating the content as well as manipulation parts of the content so you can be sure it looks right.

Gaming

Most game types can benefit from the touch-screen user interface for handling game objects, coarse menu selection or coarse navigation. Some games may exploit the multi-touch option for swivelling or panning the point-of-view or providing “true-to-form” manipulation of objects by allowing the player to turn or grip the object.

Of course there may be issues with slow touchscreens which may impact gameplay with games that require real-time interaction like action, sport or “real-time strategy” games. This would evolve over time as manufacturers create highly-responsive touchscreens that are suited to real-time interaction.

What could happen for most games is to require support for multiple user interfaces such as keyboard, mouse and touch with the ability for the player to determine which interface suits their current gameplay needs.

It is also worth knowing that some existing games may be touch-enabled “out of the box” or through the latest downloadable software patch. For example, Civilization V has been “touch-enabled” through the latest downloaded patch for those of you who have Windows 8.

How to go about buying in to the Windows 8 touchscreen world

I would suggest that you buy in to the Windows 8 touchscreen world as you purchase newer computer hardware. This is more so as more manufacturers introduce this hardware to the market in increasing numbers and at increasingly-different price points.

Convertibles, to some extent sliders, are a good portable solution when you like entering a lot of text as well as wanting to take advantage of the touchscreen as a tablet. The detachable-keyboard hybrid would suit those of us who want the lightweight tablet but like to be ready to do text entry.

If you have the traditional desktop computer as your main computer, whether as the classic “tower” look or a low-profile chassis, I would suggest that you factor the cost of a touch-enabled monitor in to the total upgrade cost for Windows 8. This could be something to evolve to at a later stage as you consider upgrading the monitor. On the other hand, an “all-in-one” desktop can satisfy your needs if you want something more elegant and less cumbersome.

Conclusion

Once Windows 8 gets a stronger foothold, whether through people purchasing new computer equipment or upgrading existing Windows systems to this operating system, touchscreen computing will start to acquire a newer momentum.

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Touch-enabled Windows 8 computers–where to go

Introduction

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computerI am writing this piece about the newer crop of Windows-8 computers that will be equipped for touchscreen computing. This will explain the different types that will be available and where to go when entering this new world of computing with a regular computer.

Computer Types

Portable

Tablet

This class of Windows 8 portable is a simple touch-sensitive tablet that can come with a keyboard and mouse. If you don’t have the keyboard with the computer and you want to do some text entry, these computers will use a touchscreen virtual keyboard for this purpose. Because Windows 8 uses the Bluetooth and USB class drivers for input devices, you can use third-party keyboards and mice that connect via these interface methods. This can come in handy with using the Bluetooth keyboard attachments that are available for iPads and Android tablets.

An extension of this class is Sony’s VAIO Tap 20 which is a 20” tablet that isn’t considered all that portable. Here, this one works with supplied keyboard and mouse accessories but can work as a tablet. It also has a kickstand so it can work like the typical all-in-one computer.

Detachable-keyboard hybrid

These portable computers use a supplied detachable keyboard module that clips to the screen. They take this example from the Android-powered ASUS Transformer Prime and operate in two different forms.

The inexpensive varieties have the keyboard and, in some cases, a trackpad just as a controller device powered by the tablet. But most of the desirable variants would have extra functionality in the detachable keyboard such as an extra battery, USB ports, etc. Here, the computer can benefit from a large range of extra abilities when the user wants to enjoy these benefits.

Convertible

Here, the screen swivels or folds over to become a tablet or the computer can open and close like a regular laptop. An example of this type that I reviewed was the Fujitsu Lifebook TH550M that I previously reviewed and you might be able to claw for cheap on the secondhand market. This is one of the classes of computer that can benefit those of us who want to use the computer for a lot of text entry like working on documents or Excel spreadsheets. Similarly, they can he angled in a manner that benefits viewing or showing content like pictures, PowerPoint presentations, video or Web pages.

The simpler variants fold over so that the keyboard is exposed whereas other types have the screen swivel vertically on a pedestal or horizontally through a frame. These ones may have an increased risk of damage if you try to rotate the screen further in a similar way to what can happen with most digital cameras that have the fold-out screens.

Slider convertible

These computers such as the Sony VAIO Duo 11 appear like a tablet in normal use. But the keyboard on them slides out from underneath the screen and the screen can be tilted up using an integrated kickstand.

Most of them may, at the most, use an integrated thumbstick as the secondary pointing device. Here, you may find that the Bluetooth wireless mouse may be more important for these computers if you want that gradual pointing or scrolling ability that these devices have.

Touch-enabled laptop

The mainstream portable option may simply be a regular clamshell laptop computer that is equipped with a touchscreen. The manufacturers would find this easier to offer as an incremental option for their designs thus offering it across the board.

Most manufacturers are offering as a cheaper alternative a laptop that doesn’t have a touchscreen. Instead these machines use a highly-optimised trackpad that is flush with the palmrest, perhaps with a ridge surround the trackpad. This provides proper support for multi-finger touch operation thus providing some support for Windows 8’s touch gestures. This may be a confusing experience for you if you are working your laptop at one area while you view the screen at another area.

For customers, this could be a cost-effective entry point to the touch-enabled Windows 8 experience for a portable or transportable application.

Desktop

Touch-enabled all-in-one

Most all-in-one Windows desktop computers, like the Sony VAIO J Series that I previously reviewed, will have a touchscreen but Windows 8 and its Metro user interface would make the touchscreen come in to its own on these computers. A few of these computers are gaining respect as far as performance is concerned, thus allowing them to be used for intense gaming, video editing or other intense work.

Regular desktop with touchscreen monitor

Most of us who have regular desktop computers and want to upgrade to Windows 8 could upgrade the monitor to a touch-enabled screen. Similarly a newer regular desktop, whether tower-style or low-profile, could be specified with a touchscreen monitor.

The touch-enabled monitors nay require a USB connection to the host computer as well as the DVI or HDMI video connection.

At the moment, it may be hard to look for a reasonably-priced touchscreen monitor, especially with the preferred DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort sockets. This is because quite a lot of computer retailers, especially the “big-box” retailers, don’t sell them at all or sell them at an exorbitant price. The best result may be to do some online shopping or visit independent computer specialists for these monitors.

Confusing issues

Already own a tablet

If you already own an iPad or Android tablet, you may think that purchasing a touch-enabled Windows computer isn’t necessary. This is even though you may use the iPad or Android tablet with an accessory keyboard to create content.

In some ways, the touch-enabled Windows 8 computer may be a way of extending the touch-driven computing experience you started to enjoy with your mobile-platform-based tablet. Here, you could think of working with a touch-enabled large-screen laptop as a main or sole computer with the tablet serving as a casual-use unit. Similarly equipping the desktop computer for touch computing, whether through purchasing an touch-capable all-in-one or adding a touch-enabled monitor to the existing desktop may achieve this goal.

Similarly, you may own a Windows 7 computer that has an integrated touchscreen or is hooked up to a touchscreen monitor. Here, if the computer is equipped to modern specifications such as a recent-standard processor and at least 2Gb of RAM, preferable at least 4Gb, it may be a good break to update this unit to Windows 8.

Considering a touch-enabled computer less productive

Some of you may find that the touch-enabled computer less productive. This can be so if you expect to enter a lot of text such as working on spreadsheets or preparing copy. It may not be a worry if you just compose short emails or work the Social Web.

These kind of users should place value on a keyboard as being part of the computer and use the touchscreen primarily for navigation and coarse selection purposes. The main screen in Windows 8 does work properly with the touchscreen as do applications that are written ground-up for Windows 8.

The touch-enabled virtual keyboard can come in to its own in a few situations such as entering foreign-language characters, especially those languages with non-Roman alphabets. This can be enabled if you can implement different keyboard layouts for the virtual keyboard and the hardware keyboard. As well, the virtual keyboard can be useful for entering confidential data if you use a desktop computer that you suspect has been equipped with a keystroke-capture hardware “bug”.

Windows RT computers

There are some tablets and detachable-keyboard hybrid computers out there that use ARM processors and run the Windows RT variant of this operating system. One example of this is the Microsoft Surface detachable-keyboard hybrid. These won’t be able to run the software that is currently available for the Windows platform because this software is written to work on the Intel microarchitecture.

Rather, you have to download extra software from the Windows Store which is the integrated app store for the Windows 8 / Windows RT platform. There will be some software like a home-student variant of Office on these computers so you can “get going” with this platform.

Software in the Windows 8 touchscreen world

The iOS and Android mobile operating environments have exposed the world of touchscreen computing to the consumer. This will lead to various expectations for how the user interface will be designed for various classes of program.

A good place to start for finding this software is the Windows Store which is the platform’s app store. As with all app stores, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to sift through the poor-quality “shareware-grade” software to find the good-quality gems. For example, I would start with the official clients for the online services you use or Windows-8 ports of known software titles from known authors.

Web-browsing

This will become a “chrome-free” application with you having to “drag” to the window edge to call up browser functions or the address bar. In Windows 8, there will be some reliance on the Charms Bar which is selected from the right of the screen for some functions like searching.

Office applications

This class of application would benefit from touch, more as a way to locate the cursor to a point in the text or a particular cell or object in the document. You would still use the cursor keys or the mouse for fine-tuning the location of the object.

These applications would have you touch items on the ribbon bars to instigate processes or select options. In some ways, you could see “full-screen” dashboards being used to select options such as creating new documents or applying themes.

Of course, the keyboard and mouse still remain as the tools to remain productive in these applications. Here this would encompass creating the content as well as manipulation parts of the content so you can be sure it looks right.

Gaming

Most game types can benefit from the touch-screen user interface for handling game objects, coarse menu selection or coarse navigation. Some games may exploit the multi-touch option for swivelling or panning the point-of-view or providing “true-to-form” manipulation of objects by allowing the player to turn or grip the object.

Of course there may be issues with slow touchscreens which may impact gameplay with games that require real-time interaction like action, sport or “real-time strategy” games. This would evolve over time as manufacturers create highly-responsive touchscreens that are suited to real-time interaction.

What could happen for most games is to require support for multiple user interfaces such as keyboard, mouse and touch with the ability for the player to determine which interface suits their current gameplay needs.

It is also worth knowing that some existing games may be touch-enabled “out of the box” or through the latest downloadable software patch. For example, Civilization V has been “touch-enabled” through the latest downloaded patch for those of you who have Windows 8.

How to go about buying in to the Windows 8 touchscreen world

I would suggest that you buy in to the Windows 8 touchscreen world as you purchase newer computer hardware. This is more so as more manufacturers introduce this hardware to the market in increasing numbers and at increasingly-different price points.

Convertibles, to some extent sliders, are a good portable solution when you like entering a lot of text as well as wanting to take advantage of the touchscreen as a tablet. The detachable-keyboard hybrid would suit those of us who want the lightweight tablet but like to be ready to do text entry.

If you have the traditional desktop computer as your main computer, whether as the classic “tower” look or a low-profile chassis, I would suggest that you factor the cost of a touch-enabled monitor in to the total upgrade cost for Windows 8. This could be something to evolve to at a later stage as you consider upgrading the monitor. On the other hand, an “all-in-one” desktop can satisfy your needs if you want something more elegant and less cumbersome.

Conclusion

Once Windows 8 gets a stronger foothold, whether through people purchasing new computer equipment or upgrading existing Windows systems to this operating system, touchscreen computing will start to acquire a newer momentum.

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