One of the joys of the “post PC” world and the growth in the mobile space is that more and more operating systems are touch based. There is starting to be a plethora, well maybe not quite, but a lot of new hardware (other than tablets and smart phones) that want to take advantage of touch – and eventually gestures – and I did say want.

What does this mean for long-time laptop/desktop users who are used to a certain way of working?

Well, in the short term, I think some frustration will be upon us. Touch enabled laptops in particular from both a software and hardware perspective have a ways to go. It’s easy to touch on a dialog that says yes or no, it’s easy to swipe and use gestures to scroll and move applications off the screen – so the basics are in place.

However, “big” applications are problematic, and will require a significant change in interface design. New designs will need to allow switching back and for the between conventional mouse and keyboard and touch. Example – icons on a laptop need to be a little further apart and close together menu items will need to be spaced a little further out. Pinch, scroll and touchpad gestures should work consistently.

I recently acquired my first touch laptop: Gorilla glass, sleek brushed aluminum, light, long battery life and the evil empire’s first real effort at a touch enabled OS for a portable machine.

The hardware is great, the OS and software is challenged – also evidenced by the spate of bad publicity and apparent early stalling of unit sales. (For the evil empire, anything under 100 million is a stall.)

The software represents a reasonable first effort by a monolithic software company to in some respects radically change user behavior. I’d grade the out of the gate effort as a C+ at best and this release will likely be remembered much as the Vista operating system. A rough draft, temporary step, and wanting much before being truly functional. Bring back the old ways!

I like the fact that I can download apps, much as I can on my tablet and smart phone to aggregate content and present it to me in a way that you simply can’t easily get using a traditional browser approach. All of this is a very good step in the right direction. Like my other mobile devices, most of the familiar cloud storage and productivity apps are there so I’m able to synch data easily over all platforms. Another plus.

The rest of the OS/and apps – here’s the rub. You touch the screen for certain apps, the “old” desktop opens and when you exit the app, you’re at the old desktop but without the tiled start screen or start menu. I know. I only have to hit the Windows key to get back to the start screen. However, this seems to defeat the purpose of the touch screen. Many of the apps don’t yet use familiar gestures to zoom in and do what we’re already used to as basics on tablets. Even for seasoned users it’s all a little confusing.

There’s a lot of work to do. There is going to be an upgrade to Windows soon, a point version update as opposed to a whole new version. Hopefully this will address some of the idiosyncrasies and provide some increase in productivity. I do a lot of work on my phone and even more on my tablet, but the real heavy lifting (both job and leisure) takes a significantly specked laptop with a larger screen, biggest hard drive I can find and lots o’ memory. I like touch – but need consistency, a better feature set and a half-step back to the old desktop.

The next holiday season will bring the newest platforms for hardware, and I believe we’ll see some good innovations, i.e. Screens that flip completely around and cover the keyboard so your laptop can morph into more of a “true” large tablet. There’s a few out there already but I suspect these will become the norm. The PC makers are not going to survive on tablets and smart phones unless they provide these innovations. Most users want simple and flexible.

The next holiday season won’t likely bring the wholesale changes in desktop operating systems that I’d really like to see, but interim upgrades on all platforms will provide for a better blend on the experience.

The smart phone and tablet markets will continue to grow (exponentially) and the PC markets will continue to shrink until the PC/Desktop/Laptop becomes a specialty arcane device used wizard dotards in a tower. This is how it was at the beginning and is how it will be at the end. There’s a new populist revolution that’s been happening over the last few years and it’s about ease, connectivity, the best tool for the task. Let them eat cake.

I’m trying to touch the save icon right now, but I’m working on my last generation laptop.

How quickly the world changes.