Tech Notes on the XPS One (and Windows 8)

People always seem to be interested in my thoughts when I get a new chunk of technology, so herewith, some thoughts on the new Dell XPS One 27, and the Windows 8 operating system that goes with it.

First, a glitch report and how it was resolved: One the first day I had the new computer it had a problem accessing the hard drive after it had gone to sleep. Resetting the computer didn’t work. I ended up calling Dell about it and after a few transfers, got to the department that apparently exclusively deals with the XPS line of Dell machines. My problem was a known bug; apparently some combination of Windows 8 and my hybrid hard drive (it has an SSD component for fast startups) creates a problem. We went into the BIOS and fiddled with a setting or two and everything was groovy from there. So good marks on Dell for dealing with the problem quickly; on the other hand it would have been nice to have this known bug addressed before the thing was shipped.

That bug aside, the machine is very nice, speedy with lots of RAM and drive space. The screen in particular is lovely with a bright 2560×1440 screen. I had been hesitant to get a 27-inch screen before this point because it’s just so damn big, and there was no point in getting a screen that large without a commensurate bump in screen resolution; everything would just look worse. At this resolution everything still looks smooth and the extra real estate on the screen is useful. The video driver does perfectly well on the games I’ve played on it so far. On the audio side its built-in speakers are plenty loud and full for the home office. The touch screen I’ll address in a bit. The included keyboard and mouse are adequate but nothing to write home about; I’ll probably upgrade those.

The fact the machine is an all-is-one has some theoretical drawbacks but also real-world advantages. The theoretical drawback is that it’s difficult to upgrade if I want to do that; all-in-ones aren’t really built to be user-serviced. However, the fact of the matter is that even with towers I’ve had I rarely added into them, and when I did I had a tendency to break the machines one way or another; I just have bad luck with computers that way. So that theoretical disadvantage is not much of a real-world problem. The real-world advantages include having the whole computer on the desktop, rather than a tower having to be located on the floor, taking up space with cables everywhere, and the fact the all-in-one is much quieter than the vast majority of towers I’ve ever had. As I get older I appreciate not having so much ambient computer noise in my workspace.

As previously noted the XPS One comes with Windows 8, which requires a bit of a learning curve because of how it handles start up and accessing programs and apps, and also because it encourages touchscreen use with its gestures and swipes and such. The learning curve isn’t that onerous, and I’m adapting just fine, but three days in I’m still not finding a huge personal advantage in having a graphically-oriented start screen rather than just the traditional Windows start button. It’s neither particularly faster or more useful to me, and the start apps in particular make me wonder what advantage they have over, say, using a same feature inside a Web browser. For example, I’m currently using Livestrong to help me count my calories; there’s a Win8 app for it. It’s pretty, but I can just as easily access the Livestrong Web site, particularly as I am usually in the desktop mode anyway, on a browser.

I think what it comes down to is the Win8’s start screen is designed to help people consume what’s online and do specific discrete things through their computer, rather than help people create things on and with their computer. That’s probably fine for most folks, who are using their computers for Facebook, games, Netflix and the occasional e-mail. But for those of us for whom the computer is a creative work tool, its less useful. The good news is that it’s not in the least onerous to get to the desktop and just use the computer like we’ve always used it.

With that said, I’ll note there are things which I wouldn’t mind app-ed out and put into the Win8 Start Screen environment which are not there yet. I wouldn’t mind having a Rhapsody or Spotify app in that environment, so I could swipe in, set it up and forget it, but neither of them are there (they are available as standard Windows programs, of course, and you can put a shortcut on the Start screen to them, which will punt you into the desktop environment). There is an XBox Music app, but I already pay for two music services and am not particularly keen to add a third, particularly one that doesn’t play nice on a cross-platform basis, considering I have Android and iOS machines. I don’t doubt in time those apps will show up, but they’re not here now, and they’re examples of things that should be. Other apps that would be useful but not there as far as I can see: Twitter and Facebook (Google+ is there through the generally excellent Google Win8 app).

As for the touchscreen of the Dell and the touchscreen compatibility of Windows 8, both work very well, so long as the program you’re using supports the touchscreen in some manner. In a general sense it seems one may use the touchscreen to approximate mouse clicks and such, including right and left clicks (in a practical sense this is often imprecise and one is better off using a mouse or trackpad). I had noted previously that one obvious result of touchscreens is a smudgy computer, to go with one’s smudgy phone and tablet. We have entered the era of smudgy computing, and I think in general people are going to have to resign themselves to that. In the case of the XPS I have, it has ten-point touchscreen capability, so I have many opportunities to smudge up the screen to my heart’s desire.

And yes, I do find myself touching the screen more than I might have expected. Partly this is due to having spend enough time with touchscreens on the phone and tablets that it’s not an alien thing to do on a desktop, and partly because there are some things for which it really is just easier to reach over to the screen and touch it rather than reach for the mouse or keyboard. I’m pretty sure as things go along there will be more reasons to use the touchscreen, so I’m glad I sprung for one.

In all: I’m pleased with the purchase so far, and aside from that one glitch, I’m working with both the XPS One and Windows 8 perfectly well. We’ll see how it goes from here.

42 thoughts on “Tech Notes on the XPS One (and Windows 8)

  1. John,
    I thought the purpose of these new Win 8 all-in-one machines is that they’re a desktop when you need that and a tablet when you need that. With a screen that large that just doesn’t seem practical–and I’d think, too, that with a screen that large you’d have sit pretty far back from the monitor just to be able to take it all in, making touch-screen less practical. What are your thoughts and experiences so far? Are these XPS One machines just not intended to be dual-purpose? I’ll admit I’m not familiar with them, as I’m not in the market for anything like them.

  2. Any thoughts on becoming the Jerry Pournelle (SF writer whose opinion on tech is widely regarded) for a new generation?

  3. “I do find myself touching the screen more than I might have expected.”
    So, how will that work out with finger prints? My guess is that at some point, we will spend way too much time cleaning the touch screen. Sigh.

  4. The one issue i have with all in one systems is what do you do if the monitor dies? With a desktop/tower unit you can just get another monitor. With the all in one you can really screw up a system good before you realize the monitor is dead. I did that with a Gateway all in one I had a few years back, I couldnt figure out why the system wasnt booting. The thing was, it was booting. The monitor was dead. I ended up trashing the hard drive because I turned it on an off too many times.

  5. I recently added Windows 8 Pro on VMWare on my MacBook Pro. Visual Studio 2012 doesn’t support Windows XP so I took the plunge and bought an upgrade. I understand what Microsoft is trying to do but I think they vastly underestimated the people who need to use their PCs for work, school, home, etc. I think Metro is a fine start for Surface, but its a bad fit on the desktop and to me its akin to the old Flash splash pages on websites. Its pretty at first, but a barrier to entry. I ended up installing Pokki as a Start bar replacement. It bypasses the Metro interface and I find the interface really convenient and intuitive.

  6. Thank you for putting this up so quickly!

    You seem to like it more than I would have expected, given – well, you have to head for Desktop Mode to actually do anything rather than turn it on and go. I’m almost certain Tammy would hate it – while she loves her iPad, she rarely if ever writes on it even using a BlueTooth keyboard.

  7. This is pretty in line with how I feel about Windows 8. It’s a nice step toward a unifed interface experience, but it’s by no means the final solution. The start screen is more of a gimmick on a desktop environment, and I hardly use it. My main reason for upgrading is that I have an XBox, I plan on getting a Luman 920, and I want to see how they all three play together.

  8. It seems to me like a touchscreen would only really useful on a horizontal or handheld surface, especially for multi-touch. Do you find yourself wanting to tilt the monitor back a bit to use multi-touch gestures?

  9. Good to see. I’m hoping the Win8 platform succeeds, I think Microsoft is actually being – and it sounds strange to say this – very forward-thinking in the design. They’re out-Appling Apple. Even the little things, like moving the address bar in the browser to the bottom – much better for phones and tablets.

    I’m not actually using Win8 yet, but I did just buy a white Lumia 920. I quite like it, as a heavy Office user at work and an Xbox user at home. Xbox Music is working out quite well for me, so far. There are both Rhapsody and Spotify apps in the WinPhone 8 environment already, so I imagine it’s only a matter of time before they make it to Win8 proper. Same with Twitter, etc.

  10. If you like desk real estate, you should consider getting a monitor arm/mount. Not sure if the XPS One is VESA compliant, but if so you wouldn’t have to worry about the stand and you get a good amount of desk space back.

  11. I’m one of those people who likes their Zune and really resented it when Microsoft decapitated the social functions. If said social functions are available in XBox music without paying the extra online XBox “Gold” tarriff I’ll be more interested. Though since I’m years out from buying new hardware it could all be moot at that point. I’m pretty immune to bright and shiny.

  12. I’m getting the impression that there is a strong comparison with the Aero crap in Vista: MS has generated a lot of pretty/shiny that people admire briefly before turning off forever. There are a couple of things about Win8 that I’ve heard which concern me a great deal, though I don’t really know how true they are. One is that everything only runs full screen, which strikes me as at best stupid and at worst very problematic. The other thing, which I also consider the most likely of these to be true, is that everything has to be bought through the Windows Store. I absolutely refuse to support that sort of closed environment and hope it isn’t true.

  13. @demetriosx Windows 8 in desktop mode works EXACTLY like 7 in every way; Windows 7 softwares are even compatible and work in the desktop mode. The only stuff that has to be bought through the Windows Store is Windows 8 apps which are largely geared toward entertainment.

    The best way to think of Windows 8 is that it has two interfaces. One for work (classic desktop) and one for play (Start Screen). Honestly, I might use the play mode more in the future as developers create more apps for it.

  14. Beej: I have a 27″ monitor I use with my tower desktop. My eyesight is bad enough that I have the monitor about four inches away from the front edge of the desk. The desk has a (ptooey) pull-out tray for the keyboard, so when the tray’s fully out there’s about 18″ between my eyes and the screen. I also have a 22pt font. In general, that font size really helps me see things better, but there are certain situations where I have to temporarily downsize my font in order to click certain buttons (place order, submit, etc), because in a 22pt font environment the buttons disappear from the screen. The 27″ monitor is an upgrade from a 22″ monitor, and if I had it to do over again I’d probably get a 25″ monitor. The 27″ (and I never thought I’d see myself saying this, no pun intended) is actually a little bit big for my needs.

    JMK in CT: Thanks for your input about the all-in-one monitor! It never would have occurred to me that you could wreck the whole system if/when the monitor dies. My mother just got herself an all-in-one, I’ll have to share that bit of intel with her.

  15. A touch screen is a good choice for a tablet or a phone. It would be inconvenient to keep a mouse in your pocket to access the contact list before making a call. Phones & tablets are smallish and you can use the touchscreen while holding your arm close to your body. I don’t see the appeal of reaching out to touch a 27″ monitor. Using Facebook via the touch screen at arm’s length looks to me like it would be torture.

    My reaction to the futuristic, arm waving, gesture interface in the film Minority Report was “that would get very uncomfortable in a hurry”.

  16. As far as all in one failures, my work has hundreds of iMacs and there has only been one monitor failure in the last three years. Is mostly hardrives, cd drives and power supplies that go out.

  17. So far I don’t own any large touch screen devices, but my impression is that the touch (or if we eventually have a hand wavy interface, that too) is more of a supplement on desktops. Mostly mouse and keyboard, but now and then a quick poke at the screen if that feels more natural. I can easily see poking a finger at an email app on one screen while mostly doing mouse and keyboard work in my editor and dev tools on another. We’ll have to see as these roll out more and more serious content creators have the additional interfaces on their serious duty machines.

  18. Michael Rosefield said
    ” the era of smudgy computing”

    That phrase is very much appreciated.

    ++ He’s a writer. He can do things like that in five words.

    Touchscreen reminds me of the old light pens, only with very coarse resolution, defeating the purpose. Especially on a giant screen. The old problem hasn’t gone away — what you’re going to do next is best done with the tool not in your hands now. Whether your hands are on the keyboard, the mouse, the puck, the ball, the lightpen, the tablet, the screen, … you have to move your hands or cope.

    Windows 8, the little I’ve played with it, seemed to be a flashy new interface on Windows 7 (the demos we had, though, made it really difficult to get to Win7; they seem to have actually noticed the complaints about that.

  19. It sounds horrible for me in every way.

    For one thing, I do have an extra large screen. I like to sit with a keyboard and mouse, quite some distance from the screen when working or when watching. This has to do with the various defects in my own vision.

    Nothing about this set-up seems right for me. What I do with a computer is WORK. And watch dvds — and streaming. Does this thing even have a usb port? Or a jack for external speakers — because I also do Dragon Naturally Speaking — as hands and fingers and back get very sore due to other conditions.

  20. Partially in response to a previous comment:

    Please don’t become Jerry Pournelle. Although if you have your heart set on writing a book with Larry Niven, I wouldn’t try to stop you. Or you could just do a Fuzzy Nation to one of his early books, that’d be cool too.

  21. @ Mike

    My reaction to the futuristic, arm waving, gesture interface in the film Minority Report was “that would get very uncomfortable in a hurry”.

    Oh boy, then you’re not gonna like what’s next:

    https://leapmotion.com/

  22. John, what happened to that massive gaming PC you got a while ago? If it is in the junk pile, can I hate it? My white bread PC can’t seem to run anything. Please?

  23. “good marks on Dell for dealing with the problem quickly;”

    I’m pleased to see that Dell seems to have gotten its act together when it comes to customer service. My experience with them several years ago over a faulty power supply was a ,multi-day, multi-lingual, globe-spanning cluster-fuck that had me dealing with idiots on two continents and left me swearing I’d never go near another Dell product again.

  24. Oh boy, then you’re not gonna like what’s next:

    https://leapmotion.com/

    There goes the smudging problem. Only hitch is, if you talk with your hands like I do, you could end up inadvertently doing things you didn’t mean to, like e-mailing that big stash of pics of female beach volleyball stars to your wife. Or your girlfriend. Or both. Upside down.

  25. @ J.D. Rhoades

    I expect an early macro for the PC will be replacing the three-finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Del) with the one-finger salute. Perhaps anything going through a port can have an automatic five-second delay that terminates the queued packets if it sees the user panicking. And really, it’s only been twenty minutes since that would have helped someone in this very thread.

    Anyway, it’s still better than a BrainPal…can you imagine emailing the wrong thoughts to your wife?

  26. I would think that the interface is phone/tablet -like simply because Microsoft is trying to create that link to their Winphone OS. I’ve heard/read a great deal about how the Winphone OS is the greatest phone operating system that NO one’s using. I’m continually amazed at the connections in the Chrome/Google world that exist seamlessly between my desktop, tablet and phone. I think Microsoft is late to the desktop/tablet/phone interaction party behind Apple and Google…but they might have build the best platform. If anyone ever notices at this point.

  27. Of course touch screens have been around for quite a long time. I recall the computer we used at $ChainRestaurant back in 1993 had one for inputting the orders (I think it was called a ViewTouch), which were then sent back to the kitchen. What I noticed then was certain areas of the screen that were touched the most got dulled and worn. I suppose in this era when people are completely upgrading their computer in less then 3 years, that might not happen…?

  28. I don’t even have a touch screen smart phone. (Watching my sister try to use it was a bit amusing.) I suppose I’ll have to get one eventually… But I don’t want my computer screen close enough to touch.

  29. I’ve been running Win8 for about two months now, and, contrary to your experience, I hate it with an unbelievable passion. Just absolutely hate it. And I’ve been a Microsoft fanboy since DOS 3.3. I WANT to like it. But I just don’t.

    So I loaded the free and open source Classic Shell, and suddenly Win8 is actually better than Win7. As an OS, Win8 is very good. As a desktop GUI… maybe not so much. Classic Shell doesn’t get rid of the Start Screen or any of the apps. All it does is make Win8 act like Win7: it adds a Start Button, boots to the desktop rather than the Start Screen, and lets you run the Win8-specific apps from the Start Menu just like any other program. For those of you unlike Mr. Scalzi, who actually hate the Win8 UI as much as I do, Classic Shell is a must.

  30. My issue: most people sit to close to their screens for the health of their eyes. If you have a 22+” screen, and you can still easily touch it, you either a) are sitting too close, or b) have ape arms. To make matters worse, most modern screens are simply too bright, even at their lowest settings. Seems like a lose-lose, to me.

  31. The other advantage of a desktop touchscreen is that you get very strong arms
    with all the exercise at full stretch – excellent for those radical poses!

    Will

  32. Thanks for the info, John. It was informative and I’m beginning to think the whole Windows 8 thing is overblown. Sort of like when winds hit 40 mph here and the news broadcast a special called “The Storm of the Century.”

  33. Am i the only person left inthe world who hates touchscreens? They don’t register my finger touch reliably. Ido have poor circulation in my hands but it shouldn’t matter. Phone, book reader, tablet, they all ignore me at least once or twice a sentence. And now they want me to use it to evenstart my computer. Sigh.

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