What Using Windows 7 Multitouch is Like

I installed Windows 7 Beta on an HP TouchSmart PC over the weekend, getting cozy with the new touch and multitouch features, then loaded up a sweet two-handed Air Hockey demo. Have a look.

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The basic touch and multitouch actions found native to Windows 7 are nothing to oooh and ahhh over, but there are a lot of little intuitive moves and conveniences that work well, even in the beta stage. More importantly, developers in and out of Microsoft are now getting all touchy, and we plan to track that pretty closely. But first, here's the starter menu of touch and multitouch manoeuvres:

Tap: The quick screen touch doesn't reveal an arrow cursor, but the screen ripples outward, like water, plus there's a tiny crosshair where you are actually tapping. The TouchSmart makes a beep (and when you tap with a second finger at the same time, that touch emits a higher-pitch beep).

Tap and hold: The "right-click" behaviour is very well constructed: You tap and hold, and a circle swirls around your finger. Let go to reveal the right-click menu.

Flick: When you enable flicks, you can swim through longer pages and menus a lot faster, both vertically and horizontally. When you reach the end of the menu or screen, the window recoils a bit, indicating the termination.

Type: There's a surprisingly MacBooky on-screen keyboard lurking just off frame in Windows 7. You tap the screen's edge for it to stick out just a bit; tap it again and out it slides to center screen, sizable to your fat-fingered liking.

Zoom: In spite of new concerns over multitouch patents, this zoom behaviour is pretty much identical to the one seen in Apple products (and on Microsoft's Surface as well). You put two fingers on the screen and move them together to zoom out, and separate them to zoom in. I will note that this was easier to do with two hands—one-handed pinching was probably too micro for the TouchSmart screen.

Rotate: Same as zoom, this is straight out of the basic multitouch playbook. Just move two fingers in a circular fashion, and the photo rotates. And again, it was easier to use two hands than one. (I found that amazing bee shot in the video on Flickr—it's by a user called aussiegall who has some beautiful nature close-ups.)

Draw: Two-fingered drawing is a multitouch phenomenon I don't fully understand, but that's probably because I'm not much of an artist. It's cool to show off—and at this point, it's the epitome of the finger Paint interface, because three or more fingers is still apparently taboo—but it seems to be a function awaiting a purpose.

The Windows 7 Media Center touch interface is really cool, especially if you're using MC in a cramped dorm or kitchen, where the "10 foot" remote-control experience just ain't happening. I ran the following video back in November, showing pretty much the same experience I can now pull up on the TouchSmart I have here, only they had more content, so it looks cooler:

A multitouch interface designer called IdentityMine created, among other things, a simple two-person multitouch Air Hockey demo to run at PDC 2008. Since it's still available for download, I grabbed it and challenged my wife to a duel. We're both out of shape, hockey-wise, but man was it a bloodbath:

In case you were wondering, I installed Windows 7 Beta in two ways on the TouchSmart PC, both which had different advantages. First, I upgraded from Vista, keeping all the drivers, etc. intact. Though I was able to get going quickly, the experience was hampered by touch software that HP ran on top of Vista. To get at the control that come native in Windows 7—which I highlight above—I had to partition the drive and do a clean install. Though I had to gather up some drivers and install them manually with some trickery, I got the more honest Windows 7 touch and multitouch experience.

I am happy that HP is pushing its TouchSmart platform to consumers with such enthusiasm, and I'm happy that Microsoft decided to weave touch into the fabric of its OS. One day we may even take it for granted, like keyboards and mice now. The real question is, what will developers do? I'm going to spend the next few days investigating more touch and multitouch applications and interfaces, because while Microsoft and HP should be praised for supplying the capabilities, the goodness will come in what developers do with them.

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