Windows 8 experience on top panel with Windows 7 visual experience on the lower touch panel.

As of 11/11/2012 Acer does not support the Iconia 6120 for windows 8 either by its Windows upgrade assistant or via any downloads for the notebook in its support section. All drivers are a year old and only for Windows 7. Windows 8 can be installed and it works, but the lower screen, nor the specialized keyboard button (on the side of the laptop) does not bring up the keyboard. Making the tablet ineffective as a Windows 8 platform.

I recently began my Windows 8 journey by installing the developer preview on an Acer Iconia 6120 or more commonly know as the dual touch screen laptop or touchbook as they have named it. My goal is to learn the metro style programming and experience the wave of the future in application development on tablet and smaller items. I am primarily a C# Silverlight developer so it is fundamental that I understand exactly what the pro’s and con’s of creating applications to the next version of windows will entail. The following are some of my initial thoughts on what I have run into as I have begun this journey which can be read by developers and non developers alike.

Souping up the TouchBook

I had purchased the Acer off of Ebay from a company which claimed they used differing laptops for demos for roughly a week, no more than ten hours of usage promised, and would sell them in a non new condition.. Long story short is that I didn’t have to pay MSRP on this gem so technically its used, but that is fine for my purposes.

There are many reasons purchasing this Touchbook which I will speak to, but the primary was for its cool factor of dual touch screens.  But I must admit that while waiting for shipment (which was delayed for a week unbeknownst to me from the seller (grrr)) my loathing began to take hold. I wondered if the dual screens would be functional within Windows 8 and thus would end up being a nice door stop for a future unknown open door draft choice in my house?Rating 4.2, Intel Core I5 M480 @2.67ghz, 4 GB of ram on 64bit OS with 10 touch points.

I also knew that Acer ships it with a Windows 7, so the possibility of bricking both screens felt remote and that the tablet is up to Microsoft’s specs for the minimum for Windows 8 screen resolution wise was 1024×768 and the screens on the Iconia are both 1366×768.

On the downside one of coolest features found on the Iconia would probably not be there on Windows 8. That feature is where a user places his or her palms (see virtual keyboard) on the lower screen, hence bringing up Acer’s full sized virtual keyboard and yes it did not come over for Windows 8. As of this writing I am still unaware of how to get the target software to bring up Acer’s virtual keyboard which does come up in the bios actually. THe windows virtual keyboard does make its appearance as designed for Windows 8 albeit smaller form factor than the Inconia’s. Sad smile

The machine I choose had to be one where I could actively develop upon it and had to have more horse power than most of the tablets out there and the Acer fit that bill for dual usage. The fact that it came with an Intel Core I5 chip with four gig of ram meant that I could develop metro apps on Visual Studio 2011 preview, which requires 64bit at this time, and have a peppy machine to boot.

Alright you ask, what did you do to soup it up?

Once I got the laptop, I took off the backing panel of the Acer and removed it’s 640 gig Western Digital (5400 rpm) hard drive and gave it some real power with a Kingston SSDNow V+100 solid state drive. Its capacity is only 96 gig which is fine for a development machine to hold the OS and tools. I actually have one it in my primary work machine, a Dell XPS 17 Core I7 laptop, which I use on a daily basis, so it was a no brainer to use the Kingston again for the Acer. The above windows experience of 4.2 with the SSD is no barn burner it really does the job.

 

My Touching Windows 8 Experience

Now it is obvious that Microsoft has an Alpha version on their hands here but frankly the experience has been anything as such. I have yet to blue screen or have any major problems. It is apparent that Windows 8 builds off of Windows 7 for all drivers I have installed have installed without problems. The following are the problems or situations I have encountered using the Dual screen

Extended Windows Not Behaving as Expected
  1. Since the Acer is a Frankenstein dual screen tablet and a single screen the OS wants to treat the lower screen as just an extension of the top screen and it just doesn’t flow right.
    1. Only one screen is the full Windows 8 experience while the other screen is always the Windows 7 experience. When both screens are the seven experience, when dragging a window by touch to the lower window, the non touch area stops the window and the menu bar (the part which needs to be touched to have it moved) is stuck in the upper window and there is no way to flick it down to the lower window and a mouse must be used instead.
    2. Touching the lower screen also sends touch notifications to the upper screen. I believe this is a bug and hopefully will be fixed in upcoming versions.
  2. When working with a third screen attached from the HDMI port there is no way to have all three screens active in any configuration. So I have had to leave off the bottom screen when I work with an external monitor. The situation is shown below in the screen shots when trying to get all of them to work. The left picture shows the Iconia running with both screens while the right screen show s the monitor configuration I have to deal with while having the lower Iconia screen inactive. (Note even though the lower screen is inactive when using the other monitor the touch is still active on the screen and its actions are sent to the upper screen. Big bug.)
    Top and bottom of the laptop are enabled while the external monitor is disabled. The lower touch screen is disabled for the windows to work.
General Observations
  1. Most of the default Metro apps do not work on either of the Iconia’s screens! One touches them, the title splash screen comes up and eventually a blank screen of the default background color of the apps tile is shown. This situation, not related to the Iconia, has been reported to Microsoft (see When I click on an application tile, nothing happens. How can I launch the Metro applications?) and the answer was that the apps were running in less than 1024×768 resolution. For the Iconia this is not the case and should exceed that threshold by being 1366×768. In summary:
    1. Most apps fail on the Iconia’s screens and do not properly load.
    2. Most apps run on the third connected screen when the Windows 8 experience is brought to It.
    3. No error message is shown to the user.
    4. Developed apps (at least the few I have done), using the developer preview of Visual Studio 2011 work on the touch experience.
  2. Windows 8 doesn’t play well with non touch monitors. Sometimes the Windows 8 experience jumps on to the monitor and the program is expecting touch (?) actions and one has to force the windows 7 experience back to the monitor.
  3. IE 10 sometimes incorrectly reports a URL of another tab than the page being viewed when multiple tabs are being used.
  4. No Aero experience with Windows Key-Tab under W7 experience and if done under the W8 experience it is a single view change.
  5. Microsoft Virtual Keyboard needs to adapt to larger screens to give the full keyboard effect. The slimmed keyboard is frustrating to use when typing in passwords with numbers or symbols and one has to click over to show a different layout. If the screen real estate is available why not use it, or at least allow the user to configure it.

Summary

The touch experience of Windows Eight is still a long way off from being a reality. Frankly there needs to be a way to lock the experience of Windows 8 or Windows 7 to certain screens depending on the screens needs. It is a nice to have in certain situations say a true tablet experience, but the laptop or touch screens will want the older Windows 7 experience for the most part. I suspect that need to be accommodated by Microsoft as the versions evolve over time. So far I can use the Acer Iconia 6120 for my development purposes, but a true stand alone Windows 8 platform it is a long way off from being a useful stand alone experience.

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