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Reading, Writing, and Editing with Pen and Touch Tools (part 1) - Using Gestures in Windows 7

3/14/2011 9:39:54 PM

2. Using the Writing Pad and Touch Keyboard

When you use a PC without a keyboard, how do you enter text into dialog boxes, web forms, your browser's address bar, or a document? For those tasks, use the Tablet PC Input Panel. (Don't be fooled by the name, which is a carryover from its roots in older Windows versions; this feature works on touch-enabled PCs as well as Tablet PCs.) The Input Panel is a relatively small box that appears on demand. Using small buttons in the upper left corner of the Input Panel, you can switch between its two views. Use the writing pad to edit existing text or to enter handwritten characters that are converted on the fly and inserted as if you had typed them; use the touch keyboard (shown in Figure 1) to enter text and keyboard commands directly.

Figure 1. The touch keyboard is larger by default on a touch-enabled PC than on a Tablet PC. In either case, it allows you to enter text and commands as you would with an actual keyboard.

Normally, the Input Panel is completely hidden. If you tap the display with a finger or a pen, a few pixels of the Input Panel's right edge become visible on the left side of the screen. To open the Input Panel, tap this small edge to expose a larger portion of the Input Panel and then tap to open the Input Panel in the center of the screen.

The Input Panel also offers to appear when it's needed for specific text-entry tasks. Tap to position the insertion point in the Start menu search box, a dialog box, a form, a document, or any place where you would normally use the keyboard to enter text. Tap with a finger or allow the pen point to hover for a second until the Input Panel icon appears. Then tap the icon to open a floating Input Panel.


If you used a Tablet PC with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, you might remember the Input Panel gesture. This gesture (a side-to-side slashing motion akin to the mark of Zorro) is disabled by default in Windows 7, as it was in Windows Vista. To re-enable it, open the Pen And Touch dialog box, choose Start Tablet PC Input Panel from the Pen Actions list on the Pen Options tab, and click Settings. Select Enable Start Input Panel Gesture, and click or tap OK to save the new setting. You'll find a slew of other ways to customize the behavior of the Input Panel in the Options dialog box, available from the Tools menu at the top of the Input Panel.

Under some circumstances, you might prefer to dock the Input Panel. This option is useful when you expect to enter a few characters at a time in several locations within a document you're editing and you don't want to continually make the Input Panel visible. To switch between floating and docked modes, tap the Tools menu above the Input Panel and then choose Dock At Top Of Screen or Dock At Bottom Of Screen.

The two buttons in the top left corner of the Input Panel allow you to switch between the touch keyboard and the writing pad. The writing pad offers a blank surface for editing existing text or entering free-form text. The example in Figure 2 shows the writing pad after selecting a misspelled word from a Microsoft Office Word document.

Figure 2. Use the writing pad to show a selection of text from the current document and correct misspellings like the one shown here.

Inside Out: Using ink and handwriting

When you use a Tablet PC pen to scribble a handwritten note or sketch a figure within a pen-aware application, you create a type of data called ink. Although it superficially resembles a simple bitmap, ink-based data contains a wealth of information in addition to the simple shape. Windows records the direction, pressure, speed, and location of the tablet pen as it moves and stores the resulting marks as a compressed graphic. If you enlarge a piece of data that was stored as ink, Windows uses this stored data to ensure that it keeps its proper shape.

By recognizing the combinations of strokes that represent handwritten letters, the operating system can convert even bad handwriting into text, with surprising accuracy. You don't have to convert ink into text to get the benefits of handwriting recognition, either. The handwriting recognizer automatically converts handwriting to text in the background, storing the resulting text along with the ink and adding the recognized words and phrases to the Windows Search index.

Applications that fully support ink as a data type are relatively rare, but you can perform some remarkable feats with those that do exist. Using Microsoft Office Word 2007 or later, for instance, you can insert handwritten comments and annotations into a document. Another member of the Office family, OneNote, goes even farther, building an index of your handwritten notes and allowing you to search through an entire collection for a word or phrase.

Although you need a stylus to create ink on a Tablet PC, anyone who uses any edition of Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or Windows Server 2008 can view ink-based data.

When you enter handwritten text in the writing pad, it is converted to text on the fly but remains in the entry window. To erase text you've entered here, use the scratch-out gesture, a quick left-and-right slashing motion. Make sure that your pen stays on the screen as you make the gesture, directly on the text you want to erase, and keep the lines horizontal; if you're unsuccessful, you might need to draw more or longer lines. The text does not appear at the insertion point until you tap Insert.

To edit a selection of text using a pen or touch input, open the writing pad and tap the selection. This action breaks the selected text into individual slots for each letter or number, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. You can use the Input Panel to edit text, even in programs that don't support ink. Select a word or phrase with the pen, and tap the text to open this editing panel.

In this editing mode, the writing pad supports four editing gestures: correcting, deleting, splitting, and joining. The button in the upper right corner of the writing pad (to the left of the Close button) allows you to show or hide a strip of help buttons, each of which displays a small animation that illustrates the selected gesture.

Inside Out: Make logons more secure

The touch keyboard is available on the Welcome screen, allowing you to log on to your account by entering your password. To toggle its display, click the icon in the lower left corner of the Welcome screen. Using the touch keyboard presents some potential security issues: you don't want a casual bystander or a deliberate snoop to look over your shoulder and watch each character of your password flash as you enter it. To adjust the behavior of the touch keyboard for logons, open the Options dialog box, click the Advanced tab, and use the slider to choose a higher or lower degree of security. The available help text does a concise job of explaining what each option does.

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