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Opinion: Windows 8 will kill the traditional laptop

Windows 8 is just around the corner and with its touch-based interface, is the laptop as we know it a dying breed?

The enormous technology showcase that was IFA has just drawn to a close, with thousands of happy geeks jetting their way home, brimming full of knowledge about new phones, TVs, headphones and fridges. What they weren't talking about, however, was the traditional laptop.

All the big laptop players at IFA seemed to be rethinking entirely what a laptop is and how you use it, ready for the arrival of the touch-optimised Windows 8. Samsung's new Ativ Smart PC, along with the HP Envy x2, the Asus Vivo Tab and the Dell XPS 10, are all Windows 8 tablets that slot into a keyboard dock to pose as laptops. Sony's Vaio Duo 11, meanwhile, has a keyboard that simply slides out of sight when you only want to jab your fingers at the screen.

What's most noticeable among all these new models is they're fundamentally tablet first, laptop second, with the keyboards acting as a mere handy accessory when you don't want to type for ages on the screen. The fact that these companies have brought out not only one, but several new products shows commitment to the hybrid as a concept -- constructing these products isn't a cheap process.

Microsoft's own Surface tablet is due out for the launch of Windows 8 and, given that it's Microsoft's creation, it can arguably be seen as the reference design for what a Windows 8 device should be like.

No company at IFA has made any kind of song or dance about their new standard, traditional, no-touch laptops. The same is true of desktop computers too -- all-in-one PCs are becoming increasingly more common, with Samsung, among others, showing off several delightful models, all of which offer touchscreens for navigating Windows 8.

The reason these companies are all busily showing off these fancy new hybrids is that Windows 8 is coming soon and with its touch-optimised interface, traditional laptops with their small trackpads no longer offer the best method of interacting with your computer. Windows 8 offers a new way of doing your computing and the tablet-laptop hybrid is ready to take up the challenge.

If you haven't seen Windows 8 before, check out our review, paying particularly close attention to the Metro interface (as it was originally called, before Microsoft shelved the Metro name). Those big, colourful app tiles are your new desktop and it's where you'll launch the majority of your applications. Its simple interface is begging for you to touch it with your excited, cake-covered fingers, leaving your trackpad stale and unloved beneath your keyboard.

That interface isn't just a lick of paint over the top of an existing piece of software though -- Metro is the core of Windows 8, and with the ditching of the classic desktop and Start Menu, highlights that Microsoft is going after the tablet market in a big way. It's the reason touch has been the name of the game this year at IFA.

You still can make your way around Windows 8 with a standard mouse (or trackpad) and keyboard, but none of the handy navigation gestures will be available to you, suddenly making it seem an archaic practice. I've been using Windows 8 for a while now on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC (which is basically the same as the new Ativ Smart PC) and I've found navigation using touch to be extremely simple.

Part of that is down to the provided stylus, which allows for the sort of accuracy you'd normally achieve with a mouse and cursor, but the big tiles and simple buttons are easy to press with even the shakiest of fingers. Certain programs such as Adobe Photoshop won't be easy to use with just a finger, but third-party developers will surely create touch-centric versions of their apps, as Microsoft is doing with its own Office suite.

While this may seem like something of a transgression for Microsoft, it's unlikely to faze too many users -- the huge rise in smart phone and tablet use has shown that people are more than willing to interact with their devices using touch gestures, and buy software through app stores rather than install it using a CD. How it fares in the professional arena for business power users is another question entirely.

Windows 7, of course, is still perfectly suited to mouse and keyboard and you can simply choose not to switch if you don't want to. Microsoft has the advantage, however, that any new Windows device sold after 8's launch will come with Windows 8 as standard.

Windows 8 will eventually be the norm, and if traditional laptops don't offer the best way to interact with it, they will simply be replaced by tablet hybrids that offer touchscreens, keyboard docks and styluses.