September 16, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft's Vista looks to get tablets on write track

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tablets, with a separate background personalization option available for some Asian languages. Microsoft hopes to add other language support in future OS releases.

"For English, we've reached the point that personalization makes a lot of sense," LeGrow said. "It's a hard problem and we're working through all of the issues in this release."

Independent technology analyst Peter Glaskowsky praised the move to ensure that Tablet PCs learn from their individual users.

"That would be a great thing," he said. Glaskowsky is a longtime Apple Newton fan who only recently gave up his long-discontinued device in favor of a Tablet PC.

Glaskowsky said there are still areas in which his faithful Apple handheld outshines Microsoft's creation.

"They (Microsoft) should get eight or 10 of their top people and get them Newton MessagePad 2100s and make them use them instead of tablets for a couple of months," he said. "Then they could learn what they overlooked."

For example, he said, the Newton is much better about giving feedback about which handwriting is being recognized than, say, a Tablet PC running Microsoft's OneNote. But he conceded that he has grown to like some of the modern things that have come in the years since the Newton was crafted--things like multimedia abilities, wireless Internet access and color graphics.

Cleaning up the slate
Microsoft wants to do more than just improve handwriting recognition with the next go-round of Tablet. The goal is to address a host of little bugaboos that made the prior versions tough for users.

One example is a subtle change being made to the cursor: When a pen hovers over the screen, the cursor appears as a small droplet, so the user knows exactly where it is pointing. When a user taps the screen, it looks like the droplet has hit the water, causing a small ripple. A second tap produces a second ripple.

LeGrow said such changes are examples of the feedback a user needs to feel comfortable. With a mouse, it is pretty clear when a user clicks, so people rarely click more times than they mean to. Not so with a pen, he said.

Tablets in Vista will also get new navigational gestures, such as the ability to use the pen to pan through documents. Another gesture, called "flick," allows a user to quickly move a little bit up or down a page. While the standard option is to have flicks for moving up, down, back and forward, advanced users can program commands for additional flicks, such as copy and paste.

The plan is to introduce both the customization and new gestures slowly. After a week or so, a user might be introduced to flicks and offered the option to learn more and begin using them. After two weeks, a dialog box will offer the option of personalization.

One feature that is not in the latest build of Vista is an improved AutoComplete capability that will let the browser and other applications offer suggestions as someone starts writing a Web address or other information. That feature already exists with typing, and, with Vista, the concept will be extended to pen input as well, Microsoft said.

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