Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An improved Windows Vista experience is on the way

So read an email I received today from Microsoft regarding our reseller software updates. It continued:

'We are pleased to inform you that the March 2008 Windows Vista® with Service Pack 1 (SP1) Special Edition Action Pack will begin shipping next week.'

So what does this mean for you? With the release of SP1, Vista is finally ready for your consideration. I know some of you have already upgraded and many others have been using Vista on a new desktop or laptop. Personally, I've stuck with Windows XP Tablet Edition while waiting for this next release of the software. My attitude is to let all the more adventurous folks work out the bugs and I'll move after the first service pack (essentially all the fixes to the first version) comes out.

So, is it time to upgrade? I'll probably upgrade my tablet, but unless you want the fun of upgrading your operating system, wait until you buy your next tablet. Then order it with Vista and enjoy the added benefits.

So, what are the benefits of Vista for tablet pc users?

One thing that can be said for Vista is that it really incorporates significant improvements for tablet PC owners and truly extends the pen and ink capabilities of the platform. Some, like seeing the screen “dimple” when you tap on it, are subtle but make the daily experience of using a tablet PC even better. Others, like the handwriting recognition tool, take not-so-subtle cues from voice recognition software and provide a way to dramatically improve the likelihood that the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) will recognize your handwriting – the more you use it the better it gets.

Handwriting recognition improvements
Being able to personalize the handwriting recognition in Windows Vista increases the ability of the TIP to successfully translate a person’s writing. Every individual holds the pen differently, prints differently, connect the letters in their script differently and it is amazing that the Windows XP TIP could be able to recognize writing without training. With the addition of personalization, Vista adapts the user’s own style and makes recognition more likely by direct reporting of errors when they occur. Also, custom recognizers can be created for other languages or shapes, giving hope to those who use symbols as part of their everyday work.

Automatic learning
This goes hand in hand with handwriting recognition, but is a “behind the scenes” learning of an individual’s writing style without requiring one’s interaction. Automatic learning simultaneously creates a dictionary that adds new words from your documents and email. There is great benefit for people whose writings are filled with industry jargon, abbreviation and acronyms because these are automatically.

TIP tab
Keeping the Tablet Input Panel out of your way without having to dock it or reposition it has long been a detractor from the tablet PC experience. The TIP tab gives users a new way to open and position the TIP on the screen. When the TIP is closed, the tab appears on the left edge of the screen (default setting – you can change this). When you tap it, the TIP slides out from the edge of the screen and you can use it. When you are done, tap it again and it slides out of the way once more. You can also reposition where the hidden TIP is position on the edge of the screen so that it slides out at the same place when you tap it. This is a seemingly simple feature but one that will make working with the Tablet Input Panel much more convenient.

Improved erasing
Once you’ve gotten used to having an eraser on your tablet pen, you expect to be able to use it anywhere. That wasn’t true in the TIP because the eraser just added ink. The scratch out gesture (moving the pain back and forth horizontally three times to erase) is fine but takes some practice and is a challenge for new users. With the Vista TIP, eraser equipped pens can remove ink directly. Also, the scratch out gesture itself has been improved, allowing people to scratch ink out without having to draw perfectly horizontal lines.

While sometimes using the keyboard version of AutoComplete can be annoying when it unintentionally creates a word you weren’t intending, the majority of the instances it is a big time saver. Now that functionality is built into the Tablet Input Panel. Basically, as you start to write, AutoComplete lists a series of possible matches based on text you’ve entered previously and gives you the opportunity to pick that entry without having to complete writing the word or phrase or URL. Very nice.

Pen Flicks
It’s very possible that pen flicks could have been higher on our list of important improvements to the tablet PC experience. Simply stated, pen flicks are shortcuts for navigation and editing that allow you to move around the screen and documents as well as copy, paste, delete and undo without having to go through multiple steps and pen clicks. Pasting an item doesn’t require you to right lick, select paste, then left click – you can do all that with a simple ‘flick’ of the pen. Another feature is the ability to customize pen flicks for your own shortcuts.

Visual feedback
It can be frustrating for new users to know when they have successfully double clicked on a program they want to open or when they have properly hit the X to close an application. Using the pen on the tablet screen in Vista provides visual cues that lets users know when they have successfully single or double clicked or right clicked. While subtle, this feedback creates a much more comfortable feeling right out of the box.

Touch screen improvements
The relevance of the feature will increase as more tablet PCs come equipped with dual function displays – ones that have both the capabilities of an active digitizer and a touch screen. As go pen flicks, so goes touch flicks on a passive digitizer, enabling you to navigate applications and use shortcuts with a finger or stylus. With a lot of ultra mobile PCs, the small screen size creates challenges in successfully targeting small icons or when attempting to resize a window. The Windows Vista touch pointer floats on the screen just below your finger and has left and right mouse buttons, a drag area and a pointer for overcoming the challenges of tapping small buttons with big fingers.

Snipping Tool
The Snipping Tool, long a great add-in for tablet PC users, allows one to draw around an area of the screen and ‘snip’ it. The object can then be pasted into an email or other document or saved as a file. It is now incorporated directly in the Vista operating system rather than being a separate application.

Voice Recognition
Microsoft is touting a greatly improved voice recognition engine in Vista. While tablet users could use voice recognition previously, it did not have the robust tools for error correction and training that can be found in Dragon Naturally Speaking. For those looking to give voice recognition a try, this may be a significant feature.

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