Hands on with the Windows 7 Touch Pack

Hands on with the Windows 7 Touch Pack

Summary: Last month I had a chance to see a quick demo of Microsoft’s new Touch Pack for Windows 7. This collection of a half-dozen multi-touch-enabled programs won’t be available for download by Windows buyers. Instead, Microsoft plans to allow PC makers to load it on touch-enabled PCs that pass Microsoft’s logo testing. Yesterday I finally got a chance to try the Touch Pack for myself. Here's how it worked.


Last month I had a chance to see a quick demo of Microsoft’s new Touch Pack for Windows 7. This collection of a half-dozen multi-touch-enabled programs won’t be available for download by Windows buyers. Instead, Microsoft plans to allow PC makers to load it on touch-enabled PCs that pass Microsoft’s logo testing. The idea is to provide a suite of fun and interesting applications that show off the capabilities of touch-screen PCs.

Yesterday I finally got a chance to try this for myself. A copy of the Touch Pack software arrived in a plain brown wrapper on a USB flash drive. I installed it on a Dell Latitude XT running a recent build of Windows 7, using N-Trig’s latest multi-touch drivers.

The installation routine was a little unusual. Instead of a conventional setup program, the Touch Pack uses a Windows command script, which also installs the XNA Framework and a copy of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth 3D (recently renamed Bing Maps for Enterprise, which pretty much took all the fun out of it). All in all, it took about 350 MB of disk space.

The package includes three games, all designed for Microsoft by Fuel Games: Microsoft Garden Pond requires you to move paper boats on the surface of a serene Japanese pond by flicking the water with your fingertip. Microsoft Rebound looks like it would be a fun and loud two-player air hockey game, if only I could figure out its rules (alas, none of the help screens are available yet). Microsoft Blackboard was the clear winner for me: a multi-level puzzle game in which you drag objects (girders, fans, and spring-loaded platforms) to move balloons and balls toward goals and away from sharp objects. Is it addictive? Hey, I’m up to level 9, and this post would have been finished two hours ago if I hadn’t gotten stuck on level 6.

The other half of the package consists of three applications that all use the Microsoft Surface brand.

Microsoft Surface Collage does basic photo arranging. You drag photos from a strip along the bottom of the window, resize and rearrange them using multi-touch gestures, add custom backgrounds, and save the results as a file.

Microsoft Surface Globe is probably the single most impressive use of touch technology in the entire package. Built on the Virtual Earth engine, it allows you to spin the globe, pick a country, and then zoom in to street level. I spent a few minutes zooming through downtown San Francisco before heading to the other side of the world for a close-up of Tehran.

Finally, there’s Microsoft Surface Lagoon, an interactive screen saver. On an all-in-one PC with a large screen, it might be fun to poke at the water and watch the fish rush over to investigate the commotion. On the Latitude’s 12-inch screen, the effect falls flat.

Overall, the Touch Pack does a very impressive job of showing off the touch experience. The Latitude XT, with a 1.33 GHz ultra-low-voltage processor, isn’t exactly a speed demon, but touch gestures were smooth and screen redraws were quick In every one of the games and Surface apps.

It’ll be interesting to see which PC makers try to push touch screen PCs this fall when Windows 7 is released. Hopefully, this sample pack will inspire some smart designers and developers.

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Microsoft touch support is poor overall

    Talk to any Viliv S5 owner who put a Windows 7 beta on their little tablet/umpc.

    1) There is poor digitizer support.
    2) If the digitizer isn't recognized during install, the tablet-oriented stuff is disabled.
    3) No easy way to enable all tablet stuff after driver installation.
    4) OS apps are not touch friendly.
    5) IE is touch friendly, but there is no way to manually reenable the touch aspects. No Firefox-style grab and go finger scolling.

    A total joke. Microsoft has some great technology, but here is the difference between them and Apple: Apple takes a technology to it's conclusion and makes it as polished as possible for the enduser, and more often than not the Microsoft effort comes across as half-hearted.
    • You do realize this is not final software, do you?

      Almost everything you list sounds like what you would typically find with beta software.
      • True to a point

        but come on. While Microsoft was putting R&D resources into ribbonizing the OS, the consumer trend started shifting to touch/multi-touch capabilities.

        Ironic considering the orgami touch screen stuff that MS was trying to push a few years back. And there is a prime example. They started with basic touch technology, and didn't make the commitment to a 2nd and 3rd generation version. The attitude was almost like "here is our solution, take it or leave it". Not too different from Windows Mobile.

        The result is Windows 7 that is no more touch friendly than any previous version.

        And that's not a beta issue.
        • I dont agree

          I have seen the touch screen setup on vista and 7 and 7 does seem much slicker.
          Incidentaly what was the the touch support like on 2000 and xp?
          • Touch support in 2000 and XP

            Pen and Touch support in 2000 was by third party.

            Pen and touch wasn't available in XP until XP tablet PC edition; you needed a whole new OS, and even then I think it was mostly PEN support (and it was very rudimentary).

            With Vista pen and touch was standard in all versions except home basic. Both were integrated into the OS in various ways, but the biggest benefits are probably OS native gestures and an improved input panel with adaptive learning capabilities.

            In Windows 7 there are too many enhancements to list, but I completely disagree with croberts that Microsoft has done a bad job integrating touch.
    • Not my experience

      I installed Windows 7 on a Dell Latitude XT and my experience couldn't be any different.

      1) My digitizer (pen and touch) was recognized and worked out of the box (along with all my other hardware)

      2) The tablet buttons were enabled by a Windows Update download from Dell.

      3) All options can be accessed from the control panel. I don't know what your point is with this.

      5) Again, I'm not sure why you need to re-enable any touch support. However, there is grab and drag scolling like the firefox extension; it's built into the OS and can be accessed from the control panel.

      4) I saved 4 for last because I have a lot to say about it. Microsoft has made tons of adjustments to the OS to make it touch friendly. First, the taskbar is larger and more accessible to a finger. You can use a flick gesture to bring up jumplists, and the spacing of the items is dynamically adjusted to accomodate your finger. The ribbon interface is also one of the most touch friendly available, with large buttons readibly accesible features, and it has been added to paint and word pad. They've enabled panning throughout the OS. Furthermore there are a multitude of gestures for both pen and touch.

      I've used tablets for a long time now, and I can easily say hands down this is the most accessible general pupose OS for pen and touch input.
    • FWIW

      When I first put the beta on my Touchsmart the touch features were less than stellar. It was an improvement over Vista's support, but not by a lot (well, some simple things like double-clicking were actually a lot better, but still). Multitouch in particular was bad. Then an update for the drivers came down over Windows Update and it made a big difference. The RC also brought improvements. I'm quite happy with it now.

      If Viliv has been working on their drivers, it is possible that trying again might get you better results.
  • RE: Hands on with the Windows 7 Touch Pack

    Actually the difference is that apple knows that they won't have someone complaining because their OS doesn't work correctly on some niche product in a all-but-dead market sector.
    • "...all-but-dead market sector."

      That would be the iPhone?

      Jeremy W
      • No because the iPhone is...wait for it...

        a phone as well as a mobile computer.
        • Ah!

          so, the Touch is the dead market then?
    • Tablet PCs are not dying

      Touch based computers have been growing since their conception. Today every PC manufacturer makes a tablet PC or two, and their lines keep growing. Only recently have prices started to come down past $1000, and it's no coincidence that at this time I've started to see more of them on campus.

      I think integration of Pen and Touch in the OS combined with cheap hardware is the tipping point for tablet PCs.
  • sounds fun...too bad I can't get it

    I too have a Latitude XT, and I will upgrade to Win7 when it is released to manufacturing. But I pay a price as an early adopter of touch...I apparently don't get any of the fun new software. It's hard for me to go out and evangelize multi-touch to friends and family when I don't have access to the "demo" software. Not cool, Microsoft.
    • I agree. I use a touchscreen

      monitor now on our Media center PC, and it would have been interesting to try these add-ons in Windows 7
  • Touch is going to be an Also Ran Like OSX

    and Linux once project Natal matures past the X-Box! Flame on.
    • Flame Off. AboveAverageJoe deserves nothing. Just like Microsoft. (NT)

      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • Is that not

        the Linux philosophy? That the [i]AboveAverageJoe deserves nothing[/i] so he better learn how to program himself? :)
        • No

          Its, I dont want anyone else using my precious os, so I can remain acting arrogant and aloof and sport a feeling of smugness over dumber non linux pc users.
    • RE:Also Ran

      This is probably the next evolution of computing.See link below about the technology for "also ran" Linux.


  • Capability present in Vista

    I picked up a 19" All-In-One running Vista from Dell in May that is touch screen with a bunch of fun little apps like an art tool and a picture manager for about $1100. It makes a good living room or kitchen system. It also has voice control that does ok but needs a bit of training so you don't have to over-pronounce everything.