Coming to a Microsoft Surface near you: Cross-platform inking

Coming to a Microsoft Surface near you: Cross-platform inking

Summary: Microsoft is consolidating teams in Office, Windows, Surface and Perceptive Pixel to work on a unified digital inking strategy and set of technologies.


Whatever Microsoft ends up announcing on May 20 -- whether the long-rumored Surface Mini and/or one or more Intel-based Surface devices -- the pen is expected to play a key role.

Microsoft already supports digital ink and digitizing pens with its Surface Pro devices. According to various sources, the expected ARM-based Surface Mini will be optimized to work with a pen, as well.


But the Surface team isn't the only force inside Microsoft working on improving pen and digital ink support. In fact, there is a Cross-Group Inking team working on making pen input better across Windows, Office, Surface and Perceptive Pixel devices.

The Cross-Group team was formed in the fall of 2013, according to a Microsoft Research video published by Microsoft on May 14. (Thanks to Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott and Lairent F. for the link to the video and accompanying presentation about the team's efforts.)

Update (May 18): Microsoft seemingly has removed the MSR link with the video and slides.

Before Microsoft's July 2013 "One Microsoft" reorganization, there were multiple groups working on their own digital inking efforts. But in September, the various teams came together to create shared design principles. By October, they had merged their strategy documents to create a "One Microsoft Ink" strategy. By the end of 2013, the unified team was talking up its plans in executive reviews, according to the MSR presentation.

Microsoft Program Manager Tucker Hatfield mentioned in the MSR video that the Windows team is looking to incorporate the new digital-ink capabilities in Windows "Threshold," which is believed to be Windows 9, expected to arrive in the spring of 2015. As Thurrott noted on his site, the unified digital-inking technologies also seem to be on the roadmap for inclusion in Office "Gemini," the touch-first, Metro-Style Office apps Microsoft is building for Windows, and which are expected to arrive in the fall of 2014.

It's probably too early for any of this cross-platform work to show up in the Surfaces that are announced on May 20. The concepts and suggestions in the MSR video from May 14 represent a from-the-ground-up do-over of what Microsoft has offered in the past in terms of pen/digital ink support. But it does seem a new, unified platform is in the works and may begin to show up in various products starting late this year.

A related aside: Thanks to Martin Anderson (@mdtauk), we also know a new Microsoft codename. Mentioned in the MSR video is a natural language commanding system in Office, which is codenamed "Oz."


Topics: Windows, Collaboration, Microsoft, Mobility, Microsoft Surface


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Too little too late!

    Samsung already has the digital ink category sewn up with the Galaxy Note series. MS is swirling down the toilet bowl!!
    • You seems to spend too much time swirling toilet bowls..

      • He Spends Way To Much Time on the Toilet

        Microsoft's use of the stylus or digital ink as this article calls it is way ahead Samsung. OneNote is a perfect example. The way it knows the difference between the stylus and touch is an entirely new experience. Even Reader which is the default Pdf reader that comes with Windows 8.X is unique. It lets you take hand written notes on your Pdf's and save them away so they can be seen on any Pdf reader.

        The .NET and screen object is Microsoft's WPFs now support mouse, touch, and stylus separately. It will be interesting to watch as developers take advantage of this multi-dimensional interface. It can be complicated for the developer but can make a user experience more intuitive and like other things in the real world.
        • Inking has been around for years

          Adobe supported inking in Acrobat years before Windows 8 was released. It's been a thing in Office since at least 2003. The Windows 8 Reader app is somewhat better than having no default PDF reader installed, but I wouldn't characterize it as innovative or even well done. It's support for PDF annotations is still very limited.
    • What are you talking about?

      No seriously, what are you actually going on about?
    • Windows inking

      on my Samsung device is excellent, it uses the same digitizer as their Android devices (and most other Windows devices for that matter).

      I prefer the Windows inking tools to the Samsumg provided S-tools and I use it a lot more under Windows than on the Note devices we have.
  • It will be interesting if the Surface 2 will be modified to incorporate

    this unified digital ink capability that the rumored "Surface Mini" will ship with. It would seem odd that the Surface Pro 2 and the Surface Mini would include precision digital inking capability but the Surface 2 would not.

    Because of that inconsistency, I expect that when Microsoft unveils the Surface Mini, an updated version of the Surface 2 with precision digital inking will also be unveiled.
    • Well...

      I sure hope so! In my opinion, if there is anything that the Surface 2 is missing, it is the stylus/ pen and an active digitiser!
    • Requires hardware

      Come on. It requires the digitizer hardware in the screen. The Surface 2 (or RT for that matter) don't have it. You expect them to ship everyone a stylus retrofit kit?

      Honestly, the Surface Pro is almost too big (heavy?) to be used like a pad of paper in your hands. Ok laying down. This tech has been available since XP (tablet edition). The hardware until the Surface, and what it shamed the other PEMs into producing has always been too ungainly for general acceptance of the pen. I have an Asus Note 8, and it is stellar. Same tech as the Surface Pro, the stylists are in fact interchangeable. Great weight, great size and OneNote really shows it off.
      • How is

        "an updated version" of the Surface 2 retrofitting? :-S
  • iPad Has Multiple Apps That Can Do That

    get the whole suite here: https://www.appstore/crayola
    • Sounds like an advertisement.

    • LOL!

      Apple rulez, MS droolz!!!!
      • You certainly

        are the expert around here on drool.
        • He's drooling...

          Methinks that he should see a doctor...
    • iPad may have apps, but it doesn't have the hardware

      There is no comparison between the iPad and Surface Pro in terms of ink and stylus support. Sure, the iPad has apps that allow you to draw, and you can buy styluses for it. But the digitiser on the iPad screen is only designed to support finger input, so it is low resolution. Drawing on an iPad is like drawing with a thick crayon, compared to using the stylus on a Surface Pro which is like a fine-tipped pen.
  • I had both and Samsung is better

    I used Lenovo TPT2 and I also have Samsung Note phone and Samsung Note tablet.

    Samsung hardware is much more reliable and better to use. It is impossible to calibrate Wacom pen on Surface or TPT2, and holding a pen at natural angle shifts cursor 1-3 off the pen tip position.

    Latest Samsung hardware uses rubberized pen tip to create traction, which allows far more accurate handwriting.

    There are several apps on Android market that support pen, for instance Papyrus. I tried to use it on Note 10.1/2104 as a copybook and it works. Of course, it's not for kids as handwriting skills will deteriorate, it's still not a paper.

    MS seems to do a lot of R&D in e-pen technology and Samsung seems to do real products.
    • Same stuff

      Guess what, the Surface tech is the same as the Samsung Note S Pen. Pens are even interchangeable. I use the S Pen in the holder on my Surface because I like the weight in the holder better than the fairly light Surface pen.
      • No they aren't.

        Yes, you can use the S-Pen on a Surface Pro, but it's not the same. The S-Pen is not a Wacom.
        • Yep. It's a Wacom.

          As a general rule, if the pen does not require a battery to function, supports flip-to-erase and silos into the chassis of the tablet, it's a Wacom. I believe that N-trig does have a battery-less design, but you hardly ever see it in the wild.