Microsoft is right about touch-screen laptops

<b>commentary</b> Microsoft is evangelizing touch and Windows 8 at its Build conference. Don't be surprised if your next laptop comes with a touch screen.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrates the touch-capable Acer Aspire S7 today at the Build conference.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrates the touch-capable Acer Aspire S7 today at the Build conference. Microsoft

Microsoft was touting touch today at its Build conference. And that means for plain old laptops too.

CEO Steve Ballmer addressed this topic during his keynote, which was streamed live.

"You say, do people really want to use touch laptops?" he asked.

Well, if you ask Apple, the answer is no. But for Microsoft it's an important differentiator.

Ballmer continued. "I had a group of leaders of companies over for dinner the other night, and they were saying, 'really, I can just flip [this] through like I would on a tablet?'" he said, as he demoed an Acer Aspire S7 laptop that looks just like a typical ultrabook -- albeit a very thin one -- except that it packs a touch screen.

As this is the Build conference, the comment was an appeal to developers. "This machine and others like it is exactly what this crowd of people will want as software developers," he said.

But he may as well have been speaking to consumers too. Having touch on a traditional clam-shell laptop will be, probably sooner rather than later, de rigueur. As it is for any mobile device now. And throw in desktops too, via the touch-screen all-in-ones (AIOs) that are now becoming popular.

My experience over the last few days at the Microsoft Store in Los Angeles and a Los Angeles Best Buy -- both stores are selling Windows 8 touch-screen laptops as well as laptop-tablet convertibles -- tells me it's a no-brainer.

For example, Best Buy just began selling the 14-inch Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook. After using the Envy last night, I couldn't really imagine buying a Windows 8 laptop without touch. I mean, this capability should have been added a long time ago to the average laptop.

Of course, the traditional trackpad and/or mouse will be there for productivity tasks, but the option to use the screen is a bonus that anyone would want to have.

And as a footnote: Ballmer said today that Microsoft has an installed base of 670 million machines on Windows 7. Windows PR aside, that's a meaningful statement.

Ballmer continued. "We don't know what will happen with the trajectory in the next year of the PC market...[but] with these incredible new form factors that are tablets and PCs, I think we're going to see a lot growth and vitality in the PC market...but if the PC market just stayed relatively flat -- the current expectations -- there will be 400 million new Windows devices that you can target with your application," he said to developers.

That's a lot of potential touch-capable devices on Windows 8.

First Look
Watch this: Microsoft Surface is the best productivity tablet yet