Before he retired, Bill Gates said that "natural" interfaces would be the next big thing in computing. True to the master's prediction, Microsoft is integrating more gesture and writing controls into their OS than ever before, including—for the first time—genuine multitouch.
TOUCH AND MULTITOUCH
In order to make use of the touch interface in Windows 7, you need a compatible PC with a touch monitor and the right drivers. We used an HP TouchSmart PC, which Microsoft has also been using in demonstrations.
In the video below, you can see the basic gestures associated with Win 7 touch:
Tap: A single click with an accompanying droplet-ripple effect
Tap and hold: The equivalent of right-clicking, indicated by a swirling circle around your finger
Flick: Inertial menu or window scrolling set in motion by a quick flick of your finger (there's also a related inertial "toss" behavior for flinging photos and other objects around the screen, where they bounce to a halt)
Type: A pop-up keyboard lets you type for real
You'll also see the multitouch gestures:
Zoom: Spreading or tweezing two fingers to make a picture zoom in or out
Rotate: Swirling those two fingers around to make the photo move
Draw: In Paint, you can even draw with two fingers
As applications harness the multitouch capabilities of the OS, more behaviors (like air hockey) will become apparent.
PEN INTERFACE AND WRITING RECOGNITION
The Pen interface is similar to the touch interface, with inertial gestures and other new behavior. Though Microsoft's Tablet PC interface has been around for a long time, there are three key additions to the writing software: Custom dictionaries, math recognition and shape recognition.
This may not sound like much, but custom dictionaries make it easy for people who use Tablet PCs at work to get their weird job-specific terminology across. Think of a doctor and a prescription pad—how many tries does it take for handwriting recognition to tell a hastily written "fexofenadine" from a similarly scrawled "fenofibrate"? In this case, the doc would be able to add the terms, so they become at least slightly more distinct.
I love this idea, since in all the years that I actually did math, I could never use a computer to do it, because I didn't want to figure out how to use all those symbols and keyboard shortcuts. (Mind you, I haven't done math in centuries, but still, I have painful memories of how confusing it was.) Now you just write the equation, with finger or pen, and you get the equation you want. Most of the time. The Math Input Panel (above) is a stand-alone Windows accessory that will paste into any math-aware application, but there's also a Math Input Control API for integrating into software.
Tired of your triangles turned into A's, or your boxy rectangles guessed as D's or E's? Now that the OS actually recognizes shapes, you can draw a flow chart or some kind of diagram and not worry that all your beautiful brainstorming will be converted to the bloody Roman alphabet. Note: We did not test this feature, mostly for an utter lack of need of any kind of flow chart, but it does sound business groovy.
While there aren't that many multitouch computers on the market just yet, there are a few. HP has both the TouchSmart PC and the tx2 touch laptop, while Dell has an impressive multitouch-capable laptop too, the XT2. (If you're wondering about the embarrassingly similar names, Dell thought of theirs first.) There are new monitors cropping up all over, too, and as long as they have Windows 7 drivers, they're in business.
Most single-finger touch gestures—including all that fun with inertia—are also pen gestures, meaning most newer Tablet PCs will be able to run Windows 7 and look sharp doing it. If you've already put Win 7 on a Tablet PC and have something to share, please do. We have not had the pleasure.