• May 2008
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With Windows 7, You’ll Be Able To Get Touchy-Feely

If you like the way you can handle your iPhone by deft finger maneuvers, you’re going to love the future of Windows. The next version of Windows — currently named Windows 7 — will drive all kinds of devices with a similar technology.

Microsoft demonstrated its multi-touch technology at the D: All Things Digital conference, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, where Microsoft Vice President Julie Larson-Green used her fingers to draw a rudimentary landscape on a Dell laptop.

“You are going to see this in all different sizes and shapes of computers,” she said.

The technology should be a natural for image editing and navigating online maps, Microsoft said. Larson-Green demonstrated manipulating an online map to find a nearby Starbucks.

In Touch with Surface

Microsoft actually demonstrated the technology at last year’s D conference as a way to deploy touch in tabletops and kiosk-like displays. In that context, Microsoft is calling the technology Surface. And while Larson-Green’s demo focused on manipulating a traditional PC, Microsoft envisions touchscreens implemented in all kinds of ways, Chris Flores, a Microsoft product director, wrote on the official Windows Vista blog.

“Surface harnesses touch and multi-touch capabilities to provide users with a natural way to interact directly with computing devices,” Flores wrote. “Expect to see the table-like Surface devices in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues.”

Apple’s iPhone may be the most obvious mainstream device sporting multi-touch, but touch-based interfaces are everywhere, including laptop touch pads, cell phones, remote controls and GPS devices, Flores said. “What becomes even more compelling is when this experience is delivered to the PC — on a wide variety of Windows notebooks, in all-in-one PCs, as well as in external monitors. In working with our broad ecosystem of hardware and software manufactures, we’re excited to be showing some of the great work and investments we are working on in Windows 7,” he wrote.

Natural Computing

“The technology is pretty cool,” said Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, in a telephone interview. “There are situations where being able to touch the screen is clearly more effective than using a mouse.” And thanks to all those handheld devices using touchscreen technology, “consumers will be fairly accustomed to touchscreens by the time this comes out in 20 months or later,” Sterling added.

The implementation of multi-touch into tabletops and kiosks as Surface could have far-reaching consequences for how we interact with technology, Sterling noted, but “it’s hard to predict right now if this will be a significant thing.” ATMs are the primary real-world touch interaction most people have with computers, which is a “pretty rudimentary” version of the possibilities. For instance, one can easily imagine tabletops in restaurants that display the menu, allow diners to view pictures of items, even place orders without waiters.

But the demo Tuesday was about Windows 7 and PC hardware. “In the laptop context, it gets really interesting as a way to interact with the machine to do certain things,” Sterling said.

Larson-Green’s demo of an online mapping system is exactly the kind of application where manipulating a screen with fingers makes for a more natural experience. She demonstrated sliding a finger along the screen to navigate around and spreading fingers to zoom in. A video of the demonstration shows playing a piano keyboard by touching the keys on screen, suggesting new possibilities for digital music applications.

Touchscreens could also make a big contribution to ergonomic computing, getting users out of their chairs and away from keyboards and mice. “The mouse was never intended to be the long-term input device, but nothing better has ever come along. This could be that better mouse,” Sterling said.

Richard Koman, newsfactor.com

 

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