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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 26, 2009 at 9:37 AM

Windows 7 team shows how touchy they are, with videos

Touch features in Windows 7 – which I touched on in Monday’s column on the new Asus touchscreen Eee Top PC – are explained in a detailed new post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog.

There’s a set of “core gestures” that work throughout the system. Get ready to learn them – they may eventually become standard ways to manipulate a computer, just like clicking a mouse. From the post:

Tap and Double-tap – Touch and release to click. This is the most basic touch action. Can also double-tap to open files and folders. Tolerances are tuned to be larger than with a mouse. This works everywhere.

Drag – Touch and slide your finger on screen. Like a dragging with a mouse, this moves icons around the desktop, moves windows, selects text (by dragging left or right), etc. This works everywhere.

Scroll – Drag up or down on the content (not the scrollbar!) of scrollable window to scroll. This may sound basic, but it is the most used (and most useful – it’s a lot easier than targeting the scrollbar!) gesture in the beta according to our telemetry. You’ll notice details that make this a more natural interaction: the inertia if you toss the page and the little bounce when the end of the page is reached. Scrolling is one of the most common activities on the web and in email, and the ability to drag and toss the page is a perfect match for the strengths of touch (simple quick drags on screen). Scrolling is available with one or more fingers. This works in most applications that use standard scrollbars.

Zoom – Pinch two fingers together or apart to zoom in or out on a document. This comes in handy when looking at photos or reading documents on a small laptop. This works in applications that support mouse wheel zooming.

Two-Finger Tap – tapping with two fingers simultaneously zooms in about the center of the gesture or restores to the default zoom – great for zooming in on hyperlinks. Applications need to add code to support this.

Rotate – Touch two spots on a digital photo and twist to rotate it just like a real photo. Applications need to add code to support this.

Flicks – Flick left or right to navigate back and forward in a browser and other apps. This works in most applications that support back and forward.

Press-and-hold – Hold your finger on screen for a moment and release after the animation to get a right-click. This works everywhere.

Or, press-and-tap with a second finger – to get right-click, just like you would click the right button on a mouse or trackpad. This works everywhere.

Some applications will support touch better than others – Microsoft is categorizing this as good, better and best touch support.

So far most of the touch PC applications I’ve used are in or approaching the good. They can feel spackled onto the systems, with rough edges and abrupt transitions from touch controls back to the keyboard and mouse.

The Eee Top, for instance, uses an on-screen keyboard application developed by Motorola that works fine. But on the system I’ve been testing, it’s not intuitive enough to seem easier than grabbing the regular keyboard for text entry. The application can intrude and grab the cursor sometimes when I’m trying to mouse or type.

I wonder how soon we’ll have really polished PCs that make the most of the touch features in Windows 7.

The blog post is part of a bigger effort by Microsoft to help hardware and software companies get it right. But it will be up to hardware companies to produce a breakthrough system that makes touch seem mandatory on a PC, similar to the way the iPhone convinced a generation of smartphone users that they ought to be able to control a mobile device with flicks and taps on the screen.

Here’s a video from the Windows 7 blog showing gestures in action:

Video: Windows 7 Touch Gestures

Another video shows touch on a Surface computer; this could be someone looking for a Starbucks in downtown Seattle:

Video: Windows 7 Touch – Globe Application

(P.S. Speaking of touch applications, Asus was concerned about the failure of its “Easy Mode” desktop touch application in the Eee Top I’ve been testing. A spokeswoman said the machine could have been a pre-release model.

I’ve spent more time fiddling with it and it works when I’m running with administrator privileges – in the good range, per Microsoft’s scale? – but not as a standard user. I wonder if it was somehow altered by surrogate testers in my house, but desktop applications on a “kitchen PC” should be able to withstand heavy usage by kids. I’ll update if I get a better diagnosis.)

Comments | Topics: Eee Top, Gadgets & products, Microsoft

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