Microsoft is hellbent on bringing touch to you

Microsoft is hellbent on bringing touch to you

Summary: Microsoft has been talking about touch technology for what seems like forever. Now Windows 7 will rely heavily on touch and it's really easy to be skeptical about Microsoft's latest plans.


Microsoft has been talking about touch technology for what seems like forever. Now Windows 7 will rely heavily on touch and it's really easy to be skeptical about Microsoft's latest plans. But this time could be different.

At the D6 conference, Microsoft will show off a bit of Windows 7 and its touch/gesture functionality. The news is being kept under wraps but once the floodgates open that's all you will hear about. Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky gave a little more Windows 7 color's Ina Fried.

So why should we get on the touch bandwagon now?

Ironically, Apple is one reason. Apple's iPhone has created a bunch of folks that are used to touch as a navigation tool. If you don't buy into the touch navigation you will at least have heard enough about it to give it a try.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been tinkering with touch and gesture technology forever (all resources). At some point, Microsoft will get it right. And Microsoft's Surface (gallery right) could have broad implications for the industry--assuming it gets traction beyond vertical markets. These experiments will eventually add up to something (we can debate what that something is forever).

And let's not forget the dreaded Tablet PC (reviews). Here's what's funny about the Tablet PC--if you talk to folks that actually have one they love it. Ed Bott can give you an earful about how his Tablet PC is handy on an airplane and recognizes his handwriting. Other folks fall into the same camp. The problem: There are too few of these Tablet PC fans to make a market beyond vertical niches like health care.

Microsoft's bet may be that Windows 7 + Tablet PCs = Mass adoption. At the very least, you'll have some touch ability built in to your PC and displays. The big question: Will you buy into it?

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

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  • Microsoft's thinking:

    "Well, touch is used on the iPhone and iPod, and they're selling like crazy, so let's put it in Windows, and it will sell like crazy, too."

    Does anyone really believe that Microsoft's implementation of the touch interface will equal or exceed Apple's for ease of use? Dream on.
    • Keep telling yourself that

      Netscape said the same thing. So did Word Perfect...

      Besides, MS has had touch incorporated (and quite usefully) far longer then the iPhone/Touch have been in existence.
      PDA's, SmartPhones, Tablets; all over the place.
      • Netscape and Word Perfect were far superior to

        MS's first few attempts at competition ie Word and IE.
        However they could not bundle their wares like MS could
        vis OEM's and such. MS had the added benefit from it's
        OEM sales of WIndows to finance the less than stellar
        versions of Word and IE that they did product for several
        generations while Word Perfect and NEtscape did not have
        such. So everytime MS and an OEM bundled Word and IE
        with a PC sale and the user did not bother to find or look
        for the better alternative ie WP and NEtscape They Word
        Perfect and NEtscape lost revenue and the ability to
        develop further. MS on the other had relied on it's
        Windows sales to fund continued development of Word and
        IE. Eventually they matched and surpassed the competition
        . I don't think Apple has the same problems as Word
        Perfect and Netscape they have a wide variety of revenue

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
        • I disagree with you on Word vs Wordperfect

          I was a WP expert. I used to write tons of macros and could make that software dance. When we switched to Word (first windows version). I noticed after about two months that I almost never wrote macros. I was puzzled by this - until I realized that I didn't feel the need to. I didn't need to automate tons of stuff because there was a really easy way without automation.

          Granted there were some features in WP 5.5 that were really nice (especially for lawyers) that were missing in Word and Word had some rough edges in the formatting department. But the vast majority of stuff I could do much faster and easier in Word.

          In short, I believe the "marketing" argument is a bunch of hogwash. I had the choice of using WP 5.5 and Word and I like Word better. Just like I liked Excel better. The first person who showed me Excel was a UNIX VAR.

          Word has not been "bundled" for many years now. You had to pay for it as an extra. And what is wrong with seeding the market? Most of the early money was from businesses not home users. Business which had to spend money on training people in WP 5.5. Many of those corporations had thousands of documents in WP format. You don't just "slide" Word in. Our company had to make a formal switch. So it was explicit decisions to switch not people just using what showed up on their PC's. I had to do a lot less training with Word than WP 5.5.

          WordPerfect, Ashton-Tate DBase, Lotus, and many others simply did not react to a changing market quickly enough.

          Lots of companies played the "wait-and-see" on Windows and gambled wrong. Companies like Symantec (then Norton) didn't and survived.
          • Not marketing but bundling....

            Legally there is nothing wrong with bundling. It's a great
            way to get your product in users hands and to starve out
            the competition. Like I said MS had WIndows. Word
            Perfect and Netscape did not so every time someone
            choose to use Word or IE rather than WordPerfect or
            Netscape those companies began to shrink. On the other
            hand if someone choose not to use the bundled software
            and puchase a none MS product MS was still in great shape
            do to it's revenue from Windows. It was a no win situation
            for many companies. I've heard others say that the first
            few version of Word were not impressive or as powerful as
            Word Perfect. Opinions vary I suppose.

            Symantic had to sue and win at least one lawsuit against
            MS I think.

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn
  • it won't happen!

    Fist off, you need an expensive touch sensitive display. That would double the price of a regular desktop.
    Secondly, no matter how much Ballmer is touching himself, people don't buy into any 'touch' technology from M$! Apple is eating their lunch.
    Linux Geek
    • Not necessarily

      One of the related technologies MS has been demonstrating the prototypes for is a projector based system for putting data on a wall and registering and responding to any touches you make on said wall. I believe they've also sponsored work on ways of improving touch sensors for screens.

      However the key thing to remember is that what MS is putting up is the software. Which means that every hardware maker will be able to take the input spect MS puts forward for making the touch system work and hook it into just about any type of hardware they can assemble.

      In short, the real make or break point of the Touch option will be weather or not all the OEM makers can find ways of taking advantage of improvements in technology to create better interfaces.
  • Touch, please

    I would welcome this new technology in a laptop. Gesture technology would be major step towards making life easier on the desktop/laptop. I do not like using the mouse pad on laptops, so being ale to touch the screen would be easier to me.
  • RE: Microsoft is hellbent on bringing touch to you

    Take a look at what people are doing with open-source multi-touch, like the NUI Group, at

    NextWindow now has a good multi-touch display. I used a NextWindow single-touch display for a project over a year ago. It doesn't rely on a projector- it as a mini-pc inside of it. It can run on a wireless network.

    It works fine with a wireless keyboard and mouse.

    I wanted to get my hands on a Surface for research, because I'm a school psychologist and would like to create table-top games to support learning and social skills for students with disabilities, such as autism.

    I also wanted to see how the Surface, or something like it, could work for students for project-based group learning activities. For more information about project-based learning and educational technology, visit the Edutopia website.

    For more information about multi-touch, visit my blog at

  • RE: Microsoft is hellbent on bringing touch to you

    As a Tablet PC user for several years, I see the problem with adoption of touch as one of form factor.

    The convertible laptop is normally carried closed with the screen against the keyboard and when opened its default configuration is as a normal laptop. It requires that you make a conscious decision to hide the keyboard and change to a touch interface.

    I would see the primary adoption coming in the UMPC arena. Here the default tends to expose the screen and treat the keyboard as a normally hidden or ancillary input method. Unfortunately, the first generation UMPCs tended to have very poor accuracy when it came to touch recognition (with the exception of the OQO's active digitizer).
  • How I think MS should improve Tablet PC functionality

    With regards to speeding up Tablet PC functionality adoption, I think MS should place an ???Annotation??? command into Windows File Explorer, which would allow the user to select one or several files, and have them open up in an instance of a program like OneNote (or [url=]InkSeine[/url]) where the files could be annotated using ink or regular text. It would be nice if the program had options which allowed the user to: distribute the annotation file via email automatically; collaborate / share the annotation file over the web; etc. It would also be nice if Windows??? APIs provided a means for developers to easily invoke the annotation program from within the developers??? applications, and have the annotation program load with the files specified by the developers??? programs. Maybe in the distant not-too-distant future, application developers will be allowed to do deeper integration of the annotation program???s functionalities into their own applications. Finally, it would be great if flat screen manufacturers (both desktop and laptop), integrated functionality into some of their screens, which would allow users to make pen inputs on them. Desktop flat screens could be made to swivel like an architecture drawing board (all the way down to a horizontal position), to allow users to mark up documents via an electronic pen, and do a little bit of surface computing.

    Finally it would be great if MS allowed its design team to make Windows 7 more attractive than Mac Leopard. I really am tired of all the Mac fanboys harping about how pretty Leopard looks.
    P. Douglas
    • That's gotta hurt...

      "Finally it would be great if MS allowed its design team to make Windows 7 more attractive than Mac Leopard. I really am tired of all the Mac fanboys harping about how pretty Leopard looks."

      Translated -- you're really tired of being unable to refute all the Mac fanboys?
      Foobar Macfoo
  • As a former Tablet PC owner

    As a former Tablet PC owner - it's a very cool technology, and yes, nearly all of us love it.

    Unfortunately, it proved to be too expensive and too unreliable. It just wasn't ready, and I'm praying that the day will come when it is ready.

    By the way, Tablet PC technology is [b]not[/b] normally touch technology. Tablets use a special stylus that can detect the presence of the stylus when it is near the screen, even if it's not touching the screen. This makes it very useful for moving the cursor without making it "click" unless it actually touches the screen.
  • Touch vs. Tradition

    Well, if you look around any Best Buy or other generic electronics or big box store, how many tablets do you typically see on the market in the reasonable price range? I honestly would bet there are more out there who would love to use stuff like this, it's just a matter of price and usability, both of which are likely improving in the latest generations. Still, Microsoft starts/experiments with something and Apple takes it, then Microsoft comes back and sees how Apple did things right. Should be interesting to see if MS tan make this take off, but who knows.
    • What about touch failure?

      When the keyboard or mouse wears out, it is affordable to replace them. But if a touch screen wears out or stops working, then what? I had a Palm Pilot that malfunctioned and would not accept input on the screen anymore.
      • Obviously it has to be affordable

        for it to be mass marketable. I would say that if the part was $250 or less then it would be mass marketable but not necessarily commonplace, and $100 or less would make it commonplace.

        Also I'm sure failure rate is something they take into consideration. If the touch failure rate is lower than the failure rate of the video display, then I would think that would be considered an acceptable margin.
        Michael Kelly
  • RE: Microsoft is hellbent on bringing touch to you

    Let's not waste our time on this one.

    Most people never learned the older technology that is in current use. Most probable that this is a waste of time and money.
  • Well, of course...

    Since Apple proved the concept, MSFT is hellbent on
    stealing it away again.

    More innovation for the Bloatfarm.

    The problem is that MSFT simply adds, yet again, to its
    reputation as a non-innovative follower and thief.

    The fact is that this is a big, lumbering, ethically
    challenged heap of slag, horridly lazy and filled with
    stupidity at the top.

    MSFT has no capability to innovate, only copy. Its
    products will always remain second rate because its
    management is third rate. Its has many intelligent
    productive people but its top management capability is
    close to nothing.

    One need only look at its stock price over the last five
    years to confirm that opinion.

    Ballmer and his crew have been net destroyers of
    $Billions of value.

    Pity the shareholders...
    Jeremy W
  • Have they thought this out????????

    Imagine the following scenarios:

    1) Hot humid day. Sweat dripping over everything and fingerprints all over the screen. A quick wipe over with a sreen cleaner and "What happened to that progam?"

    2) Conference meeting, giant screen so everybody can see,refreshments freely available and the CEO makes a point while finishing his Danish. No problem, just peel off the top screen saver. See Grand Prix and Nascar racing for demonstrations.

    3) "This screen is coffee proof, isn't it?"

    What they really ought to be doing is creating an OS that doesn't eat processor availability and will inter-operate with vendor and user programs from day one. Not something which behaves like a beta tryout.
  • Does it creep anyone else out the thought of

    Gates and Balmer into touching....YIKES!!!!

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn