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Into the Future : Page 2

Mobile PCs and Tablet PCs are a growing market segment and are of the utmost strategic importance to Microsoft. New developments in hardware, software, developer tools, and SDKs give developers many new opportunities.


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New in Windows Vista
In Windows Vista, many of the components that were specific to the Tablet PC version of Windows XP have been migrated into the main operating system. Fundamental features, such as the ability to recognize or render Ink, are available on all versions of Windows Vista; in other words, you can treat any version of Windows Vista as a Tablet PC operating system. There are still a few components that are specific to actual Tablet PCs. Those fall into the category of accessory applications, such as the Windows Tablet PC Journal, or the TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel), which simply do not make sense unless you have a real Tablet PC.
Ink Analysis is Ink Recognition on steroids.
Windows Vista also sports an area of major change when it comes to handwriting: Vista supports personalization. This means that you can train the handwriting recognizer to recognize your handwriting. In Windows XP, all handwriting was recognized the same way, no matter who used the device. Some people think that recognition in Windows XP gets more accurate over time, but this really is not the case; people tend to adjust their handwriting subconsciously. People get trained by the device. Vista supports the opposite, allowing users to run a wizard that can be used to train the recognizer to various degrees, ranging from simple training for characters or words the recognizer gets wrong regularly (see Figure 3), to in-depth training by providing vast handwriting samples (see Figure 4). Furthermore, users can send feedback to Microsoft about incorrect recognition results, similar to the way you can submit application error information to Microsoft today.

 
Figure 3. Vista Handwriting Options: Vista supports handwriting personalization (training) for individual problematic characters as well as an in-depth training option.
 
Figure 4. Training and Personalization: In-depth training and personalization of the handwriting recognizer.
Another area that has been greatly improved in Vista is the TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel), which gains intelligence about where and at what size it appears on the screen. You can also resize it—an ability that was sorely lacking in Windows XP. The TIP can now appear either as a little icon as in Windows XP or as a docked panel that can be customized by the user. Figure 5 shows the new TIP in action.
 
Figure 5. New TIP Panel: The new TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel) in Windows Vista fully supports the "glass" style.
Writing on the TIP has been improved as well. It now supports more sophisticated scratch-out gestures as well as end-of-pen erasing. The overall input area has been optimized for space, which is especially useful in languages that tend to have longer words and sentences.

The new TIP now also supports autocomplete in applications such as Internet Explorer (see Figure 6 and Figure 7). In XP versions of the TIP, when you write a word, such as "Microsoft," it doesn't get communicated to the control with the focus (in particular, to the address bar in Internet Explorer) until you hit the insert button. Internet Explorer's autocomplete does not appear before the insert button is tapped. In Vista, all recognized text is sent to IE's autocompletion engine immediately, showing the list of sites IE associates with the word right away, and making the whole user experience much more satisfying. This works not only in Internet Explorer, but also in other applications, such as in WinForms 2.0 autocomplete. There is an API developers can use for autocompletion, improving text entry in controls where Ink auto-complete is not supported natively.

 
Figure 6. Autocompletion in TIP: The Windows Vista TIP ties into Internet Explorer's autocomplete feature and shows a list of suggestions as soon as any Ink input is provided.
 
Figure 7. Ubiquitous Autocomplete: Ink autocomplete works in many applications beyond Internet Explorer and can even be used by developers through a special API.
The overall experience for pen users has also improved in Windows Vista through the addition of "flicks." Flicks are simple gestures you can perform by quickly drawing a line in a certain direction. Draw a quick line to the right (flick the pen to the right) to perform a gesture that is interpreted as "navigate back". There are different degrees of flick support users can choose, from relatively simple flicks in two or four directions, to more advanced flicks in eight directions. The action associated with each flick is user-configurable (see Figure 8).


 
Figure 8. Gestures: "Flicks" are a quick and user-configurable way to use the pen for navigation and other features.
Programming Vista Tablets
There are changes for Tablet PC developers in Windows Vista. Some are small, such as the addition of APIs or new features in existing APIs. Others are larger and go along with the new UI development paradigm inherent to WinFX and WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) development.
Ink Layout Analysis allows for semantics recognition, such as finding annotations anchored to a certain part of a document.
Let's start out with API changes. The new TIP API affords much greater control over the TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel) and its features, compared to components such as PIP on Windows XP. There is a special Text Input API that can be used to control how text is recognized and inserted by the TIP. This API can be used to suggest alternate recognition results right inside the TIP. A related API is used to control the TIP's interaction with text controls that support autocomplete (see above).

One feature has been retired in Windows Vista; in previous versions of the Tablet PC SDK, developers were able to "content tag" controls on existing applications, providing hints to the recognizer as to what kind of content is to be expected. For instance, textboxes used to enter e-mail addresses could be tagged with the "EMAIL" factoid, which drastically improves recognition results for e-mail addresses. This tagging information was stored in external manifests. It turned out that this approach was somewhat fragile and not entirely productive. Whenever developers reused the same control in various user controls or classes, they had to tag the same control in each instance where it was used. It would have been much more productive to programmatically indicate the content type of the control once. Also, if the external manifest were lost, corrupt, or inaccessible for some reason, none of the tagging information would be communicated to the recognizer. Windows Vista no longer supports this content-tagging approach; instead, this is now handled programmatically through the InputScope property on the UIElement base class. Context tagging is gone, but you can set the recognizer hints in XAML.



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