Ever since Apple introduced the iPhone way back in 2007, the technology sector as a whole has moved towards the adaptation of touch screens. Although they existed prior to the iPhone, Apple’s gadget was the first to introduce a glass capacitive screen to the masses. Now a touch screen monitor can be found everywhere from kiosks at airports to checkout lanes in grocery stores.

The touch screen monitor has affected everything, but perhaps the most interesting thing that is has impacted isn’t new technology – it’s the old technology. The Windows and Mac OS X desktop operating systems both existed for decades with a keyboard and mouse existing essentially as the sole input methods.

Now Microsoft and other manufacturers have begun to offer touch-based devices that run Windows, and some companies have retrofitted Apple’s OS X devices to work with touch displays.

The big question, then, is how touch input affects the way we use these operating systems.

Windows Operating Systems

Windows-8

Windows offerings with touch screen input have been popping up much more frequently over the last year. The catalyst behind this is, of course, Windows 8. It’s virtually impossible to find a touch-based device running Windows 7 or earlier, and that’s a major plus for Microsoft’s OS. Windows 8 is optimized for touch screens, with live tiles and panels comprising the majority of the user interface. The overhaul was so geared towards touch screens that many have complained that Windows 8 actually feels unnatural to use with a keyboard and mouse. Because of this, we can say confidently that the net impact of the touch screen monitor on Windows has been a positive.

Apple Operating Systems

apple-os-x

For Apple users, touch screens are much more of a mixed bag. Although Apple led the touch revolution and its iOS operating system is entirely touch-based with no support for mouse entry, it has kept OS X walled off. OS X continues to be released on the Macbook, iMac and Mac Pro lineups of devices. To get a touch-based OS X machine, you have to use customized hardware from a third-party that adapts the desktop system to a touch display.

The results here are just about what one might expect from a retrofitted solution. It’s a neat idea and it does function very well, but OS X simply isn’t built for touch panels. This means that some inputs, such as control clicking, have to be accomplished through unnatural gestures or other commands. Elements on the screen can also be harder to click, as they were developed for the precision of a mouse and not for a finger. It’s nice to have the option of running OS X on a touch device and it does have it’s benefits, but it’s far from perfect.

Regardless of what platform you’re using, touch seems to have made it much easier and more natural to interact with your computer. On the Windows side this transition has been eased by recent updates to the platform, but some of the OS X offerings out there have been improved by touch. Despite some of the minor productivity losses that can come with a touch screen monitor, both operating systems still allow you to do exactly what you would do with a keyboard and mouse. They just have the added convenience of being touch-responsive, and that has to be seen as a victory for consumers.