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New Tool Allows Testing Windows 8 Beta on iPad

A major limitation in kicking the tires of Windows 8 in the consumer preview is that for most users, there's no experience of the touch-first interface -- arguably the most transformational aspect of the brand-new design.

For the most part, the million-plus downloaders of the new OS are careening through the elegant Metro-style interface with a mouse and keyboard. Unless they've already got an all-in-one system with a touchscreen, or a Windows 7 tablet, developers and tech enthusiasts face the unenviable choice of testing Windows 8 without touch or shelling out $1,000 or more for a touchscreen system or tablet that may or may not take full advantage of Windows 8 when the OS ships.

The situation changed radically for testers today with the release of a product for running a remote desktop version of the Windows 8 consumer preview on the Apple iPad -- the device people generally want to compare the Windows 8 software experience against anyway.

Splashtop Inc., one of the most successful app sellers in the Apple App Store and on Google Play, released "Win8 Metro Testbed -- powered by Splashtop." While the name is a mouthful, the product allows testers to try the Windows 8 Metro interface, complete with gestures, on an iPad.

[Click on images for larger view.]
Screenshots of Win8 Metro Testbed on the iPad.

Win8 Metro Testbed requires three components: Windows 8 Consumer Preview downloaded from Microsoft and installed on a PC, the Win8 Metro Testbed app purchased from the App Store and installed on an iPad, and free Splashtop Streamer software installed on the test PC.

Win8 Metro Testbed is pricey by App Store standards at $49.99, although it launched at a $24.99 promotional price.

Splashtop Inc. was primarily thinking about developers when it created, and priced, the tool. "We think it's not a regular app. It's really a developer's tool, similar in value to a VMware client or a Parallels desktop product," Cliff Miller, Splashtop's chief marketing officer, told me in a telephone interview this morning. "For what we're selling, $50 is a pretty good deal, especially if it means you don't have to buy a $1,000 tablet."

What Splashtop did was create a way for the native Windows 8 Metro touch gestures to work on the iPad. According to the company's press release, those gestures include:

  • Swipe from the right to view the Charms menu
  • Swipe from the left to switch apps
  • Swipe left/right in Internet Explorer to move between pages
  • Swipe down to bring up additional menus
  • Swipe down on an item to select it
  • Pull down from the top to close an app
  • Swipe slowly from the left to run two apps side-by-side ("snapping")
  • Swipe from left-and-back to show running apps
  • Pinch to navigate files, folders, apps and data with Semantic Zoom

In the months leading up to the Windows 8 launch, Miller said the app can give Metro app developers a way to test the behavior of their apps in the touch environment.

Miller adds that the 200-employee, 6-year-old company's focus on optimizing performance for both PC and tablet hardware will come in handy for app testing. An emphasis on video-streaming quality and on minimizing latency will make it easier to test touch apps, he said.

With millions of Windows 8 testers and the tens of millions of Apple iPads heavily concentrated among tech enthusiasts and developers, the potential market for the app is fairly large -- but short.

"We tend to try things out and sort of improvise along the way," Miller said. "My feeling is there's huge potential here, at least until Microsoft releases its official version of Windows 8. We know we've got that window. Between now and then, we have some opportunities that are interesting." Down the road, Splashtop may look to start a developers' program or steer its efforts toward gaming companies.

For now, the Win8 Metro Testbed is worth serious consideration for developers and anyone else in the Microsoft channel with a vested interest in understanding what the full Windows 8 touch experience could be like.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 12, 2012