Getting touchy with Office 15, Surface 2.0 and Windows 8

Touch technologies are advancing across the Microsoft product lines, in everything from Office 15, to Surface 2.0, to Windows 8.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Here's a round-up of some recent touch-centric Microsoft tidbits:

Radial menus revisited: After The Verge recently wrote about Office 15 possibly adopting a new touch-friendly "radial menu" concept, Microsoft watchers have been rifling through videos and docs trying to figure out exactly what this might be. My new favorite educated guess comes from reader @mcakins, who points out that the InkSeine project from Microsoft Research includes a mention of radial menus.

InkSeine was going to be "a complete rethinking of what user interfaces should be for the digital pen and ink experience." It was targeted at the ill-fated UMPC form factor. According to the Microsoft Research Web site, radial menus allowed users to hover to preview commands and stroke downward to activate a particular command. While designed for a stylus, the menus could be used with fingers, too.

There's also this Bing Visual Search prototype which Long Zheng blogged about last year on Istartedsomething.com. As Zheng noted at the time, radial menus already are in use on the Microsoft Surface.

We still don't know for sure whether Office 15 will be a true "Metro-style" app (developed using WinRT) or just a somewhat Metro-ish looking one. More and more, I think it's likely it won't be true Metro-style, as it would take Microsoft too long to redo it if the goal is to release Office 15 before the end of calendar 2012, as I've heard is the current plan. Radial menus supposedly would be a compromise -- a way to make Office more touch-friendly/centric. Surface 2.0 SDK updated: Speaking of Surface, Microsoft last week made available for download a new version of its Surface 2.0 software development kit (SDK) and runtime. The updated bits include "improved support for Windows Touch Enabled devices." In the notes accompanying the bits, Microsoft officials acknowledged there were issues with the original SDK for the new Surface caused by the input stack not recognizing all touches reported by the digitizer in serial mode.

"The new build handles input from serial and parallel/hybrid digitizer more robustly. We encourage you to use this update, especially if you are building applications that will run on Windows 7 touch enabled PCs," the notes added. (The latest update replaces the Surface Toolkit for Windows Touch Beta.)

I don't know whether these problems with the digitizer had anything to do with the delay in final delivery of the Samsung SUR-40 Surface 2.0 devices, which began shipping in January 2012 after original commitments to have them in the market last year.

Windows 8 and its touchy tweaks: Windows 8: As the Consumer Preview, a k a the Windows 8 beta, inches closer, screen shots from what may or may not be christened the CP build have begun to leak. Among the user interface changes folks are noticing is the removal of a permanent Windows Start button; new Charms Bar icons/effects; new immersive UI icons, etc. There's still no definitive word -- as far as I know -- as to whether Microsoft plans to offer testers a chance to try Windows 8 ARM tablets running the Consumer Preview before the end of this month, however. Those tablets will be Microsoft's true touch test.

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