Microsoft adds some multi-touch glitz to Windows 7

Microsoft adds some multi-touch glitz to Windows 7

Summary: Last week, on a whirlwind tour of the Microsoft campus, I had a chance to sit down with the team responsible for implementing the multi-touch feature set in Windows 7 and to see a previously unannounced product called the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, which will be available with Windows 7 on new touch-compatible PCs. But if you want to get your hands on it, you'll have to wait for a new generation of hardware.


It was exactly one year ago tomorrow that Windows 7 made its public debut in a brief demo at the D6 (All Things Digital) conference. Looking back at that video (via YouTube), it’s surprising to see that that first demo focused on multi-touch support.

Since then, several million people have downloaded the beta or release candidate of Windows 7 and are running it today. I’ll bet that only a few thousand of them have actually had a chance to use its multi-touch features. Until a few weeks ago, you could put me in that category as well. Although I own a Dell Latitude XT with a multi-touch display, the drivers that fully enable that feature in Windows 7 weren’t available until just a few weeks ago. (N-Trig, which manufactures the DuoSense multi-touch display used in the Dell Latitude XT/XT2 and HP TouchSmart TX2, released some rough, incomplete drivers back in January, but they did little to truly show off the multi-touch capabilities of the platform.)

Shortly after installing the Windows 7 Release Candidate on this notebook, I downloaded the newly released DuoSense drivers. The difference in performance and feature availability is astonishing, and I’m finally able to see some of the potential of multi-touch.

Last week, on a whirlwind tour of the Microsoft campus, I had a chance to sit down with the team responsible for implementing the multi-touch feature set in Windows 7 and to see a previously unannounced product called the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, which will be available with Windows 7 on new touch-compatible PCs.

The Touch Pack consists of three multi-player games. Rebound, shown below, works like the old air hockey games where I wasted many hours of my college years.

There’s a fish-themed screensaver whose touch gimmick is that the fish swim up to your fingers when you make the right gestures. There are also a pair of interesting applications that take advantage of multi-touch features borrowed from the Microsoft Surface platform. Microsoft Surface Collage lets you drag photos onto a surface, arrange them and rotate to create an interesting layout, then save the result as a wallpaper. Microsoft Surface Globe is the app that was demoed last year at D6, and it still offers an impressive demo of how to navigate through the Virtual Earth environment.

My experience with the new multi-touch features has been mostly positive. Today, at least, these features are most interesting when used for consuming content. Using gestures to flip quickly through PDF files and Word documents or to navigate the web quickly becomes second nature.

Ultimately, though, multi-touch is one of those features that might take years to reach critical mass. It requires some fairly significant investments from hardware makers, who have to be willing to put some R&D and engineering into designs that show off multi-touch properly. It will also take some effort from third-party software developers to come up with applications that leverage the technology. And even with all that, there’s no guarantee that this stuff will ever be more than an interesting curiosity.

Ironically, the best marketing partner Microsoft has for this endeavor is Apple, whose iPhone and iPod Touch platforms have whetted the appetite of consumers for devices that use multi-touch. Assuming Apple someday releases a larger, tablet-sized device with multi-touch capabilities, it should have some interesting competition from the PC side.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Windows

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  • another blog about it

    here's another blog about it:
    • That link is already in this post

      I linked to that post in the first mention of the product here.
      Ed Bott
  • .

  • Another stab at Tablet PCs

    I hope MS does crucial design and engineering work to ensure that Tablet PCs take off this time. I think multitouch and the multitouch onscreen keyboard will be key to making this happen. I hope we see a bunch of Tablets with optional attachable keyboards (which are used seldomly) which people carry around a lot - I'm referring to the Tablets, not the keyboards. In addition, I think the Touch Pack for Windows 7 should include the following to help the form factor do well:

    1) A telephony application which can hook up to VOIP or cellurlar services.

    2) An application that can be used to view and mark up document files (e.g. .docx, xlsx, .pdf, .html) in ink and via a keyboard, which has a supporting backend service, which allows you to effortlessly send the modified files to your contacts, resulting in your friends being able to acccess the files from their own copies of the application. It would also be neat if the marked up files could be emailed, sent to printers, etc. It would also be nice if the application could interoperate with Office applications such as OneNote, so that files produced by the application could used by more advanced applications to do advanced editing, collaboration, etc. It would also be nice if the same application could be used to create ad hoc handwritten (e.g. for telephone messages), typed, embedded audio, embedded video, etc. notes which could be easily forwarded to contacts using the backend service.

    (As an aside, I think desktop applications should routinely employ a backend service to support the casual exchange of files [rather than rely on email], and in more advanced cases, collaboration around the files.)
    P. Douglas
    • I don't even think multitouch is the big factor

      Just that fact that you do not need a stylus anymore would be enough to convert most people. The multitouch is just gravy. Not that there's anything wrong with gravy.
      Michael Kelly
      • Vista already supported single-touch

        A Vista Tablet PC like the HP TouchSmart Tx2500 already allowed you to do tablet-like stuff with basic touch.

        Multi-touch really does make a difference. For instance, you can do a two-finger tap in IE to zoom the page, click a small link, and then two-finger tap again to zoom back to normal. Like I said, it becomes second nature after a short while and is quite cool.
        Ed Bott
        • I disagree with multi-touch

          I think most of the time it just hides other flaws. The first example is always zoom. But I don't need to zoom into a web page on a computer. On my G1 I never need to zoom because it formats texts areas to better fit the screen and when I want to click a link the track ball will start highlighting links in the area thats currently in the view port. Thats faster than zooming in, clicking and zooming out.

          Now the single touch examples you mentioned are great like flipping through a PDF with gestures (though I still don't agree with this on non-tablet form computers). It will be great to see more uses for touch. But the multi-touch thing to me is still very overrated.

          And what happened to Surface? Did they never intend to make a big public push with it or did the hinge it all on working with hardware makers for that device interaction?
          • Surface is a differnt platform

            As for your opinion about multi-touch, that's cool. I disagree base don my experience. I don't want the page to be reformatted to fit my device. On a tiny phone that might make sense, but on a larger screen I want to see it as he designer intended it to be seen.
            Ed Bott
          • But on that larger screen....

            you won't need to zoom.

            I was actually asking about Surface separately. I see all this talk about multi-touch and the IPhone but Surface was the only place it made sense to me.
          • I've actually used it

            And yes, I did need the zoom, especially when there were multiple links in close proximity to one another.

            Ed Bott
          • Surface

            [i]And what happened to Surface? Did they never intend to make a big public push with it or did the hinge it all on working with hardware makers for that device interaction? [/i]

            See <a href=>here</a>. The videos which are shown on the web site, show just how dramatically multitouch can change modern computing.
            P. Douglas
          • I think you're making the same mistake...

            Are you confusing touch and multi-touch?

            What they showed with single touch was cool. The only place multi-touch was used was to zoom and rotate which I'd rather do with single touch. It might be ok on a tablet but my laptop which is often times on my lap will probably not be very stable or get knocked off. I'm not really fond of a touch laptop period. The only other neat demo was the piano. Aside from that it still shows multi-touch is a bit overrated at this point.
          • Areas multitouch is good in

            Multitouch is required when using an an onscreen keyboard naturally. Multitouch supports multiple users therefore it is good for collaborative type work - for which there is a huge potential. Multitouch is good for applications that involve zooming in and out. This includes map / image related apps, apps that allow you to navigate and drill down complex structures, etc. Multitouch allows you to manipulate multiple controls simultaneously, which would be great for games, virtual instruments or devices, etc. Multitouch therefore has significant potential.
            P. Douglas
          • Multi-touch useful with large, shared surfaces

            [i]Aside from that it still shows multi-touch is a bit overrated at this point.[/i]

            I think that multi-touch makes perfect sense for Surface when you get multiple people around the table all interacting with it at the same time.

            Otherwise, I agree 100% with you and have been saying for a [b]long[/b] time that multi-touch, [b]especially[/b] on personal devices, is [b]hugely[/b] overrated.

            [i]Oooo, look, I can rotate a picture with 2 fingers. Wow![/i]

            When I asked Apple zealots to show me any applications that used multi-touch on the iPhone / iPod Touch, the best they could do was show me 5 games. Out of the 40,000 applications available, there were precisely zero, nada, zilch productivity apps that took advantage of multi-touch.
      • Multitouch the factor or not

        First, Multi touch once the user recognizes what it means besides expand and contract, there is rotate on axis and move with rotate and the like. This only works well with 3D items like relief maps, or 3D objects.

        However, there are other areas like flip webpage over and make notes on a virtual note page on the back of the page.

        Or see the picture from reverse view.

        There are other features being worked on for filing systems and the like. All are touch based. All finger driven.

        But getting all this into the software means the software has to support it.

        Right now all software supports mouse and keyboard input. There is audio input for certain things and audio control is still barely out of infancy.

        There is great potential here.

        Especially dealing with photos, cameras, gps devices, movies, presentations and the like.

        There will always be detail that will require a stylus. Stylus is just a finer input device. Not necessary. Heck a fingernail could do much of what a stylus can do....
  • Friendly Favors

    It's will be good of Apple to stump on behalf of Microsoft's
    multitouch initiative. It's also convenient that they are
    available to provide competition in the face of antitrust
    scrutiny. While we're at it, I suppose we could thank them
    for coining "MultiTouch" and "paving the way" with patents,
    and the iPhone's popularity. We are reminded how
    competition can also be collaborative and how closed
    architecture has traditionally provided an incubator for
    open architecture. It's a healthy exchange. The Zune
    became a competitor only after Microsoft ditched the
    partners and adopted Apple's model.

    The degree of open resentment we can see against Apple's
    "closed and mercurial ways" might be a little misplaced in
    upcoming years. Hate Apple? Would never buy their gear
    or endorse closed architecture? Well folks, what with Zune,
    netbook licensing for Windows, Intel chips, hardware spec
    targets, Multitouch, and a brand new Dock around the
    corner, you may now have to reconcile how much you
    already do use "Apple".
    Harry Bardal
  • Touch display

    The problem I have with buying a multitouch display on my desktop is whatever model offers multitouch - that same model doesn't give me other things I'm looking for in a doesn't have native HD resolution, enough wide viewing angle, enough contrast ratio and other features (multiple inputs, analog and digital connections, don't have HDCP etc).
  • RE: Microsoft adds some multi-touch glitz to Windows 7

  • RE: Microsoft adds some multi-touch glitz to Windows 7

    multi-touch may be the future.
  • RE: Microsoft adds some multi-touch glitz to Windows 7

    Check out these two videos as well. The same app running on Surface and on Windows7.