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Windows Vista

Mobile Computing in Windows Vista : Getting the Most Out of Your Tablet PC

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In the “old days,” working on a document usually meant pulling out a blank sheet of paper, taking up a pen (or some other writing instrument), and then writing out your thoughts in longhand. Nowadays, of course, electronic document editing supersedes this pen-and-paper approach almost entirely. However, there are still plenty of situations when people still write things out in longhand:
  • Jotting down an address or other data while on the phone

  • Taking notes at a meeting

  • Recording a list of things to do while visiting a client

  • Creating a quick map or message for faxing

  • Sketching out ideas or blueprints in a brainstorming session

Unfortunately, for all but the most trivial notes, writing on paper is inefficient because you eventually have to put the writing into electronic form, either by entering the text by hand or by scanning the document.

What the world has needed for a long time is a way to bridge the gap between purely digital and purely analog writing. We’ve needed a way to combine the convenience of the electronic format with the simplicity of pen-based writing. After several aborted attempts (think of the Apple Newton), that bridge was built in recent years: the Tablet PC. At first glance, many Tablet PCs look just like small notebook computers, and they certainly can be used just like any notebook. However, a Tablet PC boasts three hardware innovations that make it unique:

  • A touch screen (usually pressure-sensitive) that replaces the usual notebook LCD screen. Some Tablet PC screens respond to touch, but most respond to only a specific type of pen (discussed next).

  • A digital pen or stylus that acts as an all-purpose input device: You can use the pen to click, double-click, click-and-drag, and tap out individual characters using an onscreen keyboard. In certain applications, you can also use the pen to “write” directly on the screen, just as though it were a piece of paper, thus enabling you to jot notes, sketch diagrams, add proofreader marks, or just doodle your way through a boring meeting.

  • The ability to reorient the screen physically so that it lies flat on top of the keyboard, thus making the screen’s orientation like a tablet or pad of paper. (Note, however, that there are now some Tablet PCs that don’t support this feature and have lids like regular notebooks.)

Note

Some Tablet PCs come with a screen that’s sensitive to finger touches. Windows Vista supports these screens.


The first Tablet PCs came with their own unique operating system: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. With Windows Vista, the Tablet PC–specific features are now built into the regular operating system, although they are activated only when Vista is installed on a Tablet PC (and you’re running any Vista edition except Home Basic).

Before moving on to the new Tablet PC, I should note that Vista comes with a couple of tools that were also part of the XP version: Windows Journal and Sticky Notes. These programs are identical to the XP versions.

Changing the Screen Orientation

The first Tablet PC feature to mention is one that you’ve already seen. The new Mobility Center comes with a Screen Orientation section that tells you the current screen orientation . There are four settings in all:

  • Primary Landscape— This is the default orientation, with the taskbar at the bottom of the display and the top edge of the desktop at the top of the display.

  • Secondary Portrait— This orientation places the taskbar at the right edge of the display, and the top edge of the desktop at the left of the display.

  • Secondary Landscape— This orientation places the taskbar at the top of the display, and the top edge of the desktop at the bottom of the display.

  • Primary PortraitThis orientation places the taskbar at the left edge of the display, and the top edge of the desktop at the right of the display.

Setting Tablet PC Options

Before you start inking with Vista, you’ll probably want to configure a few settings, and Vista offers quite a few more than XP. Your starting point is the Control Panel’s Mobile PC window—specifically, the renamed Tablet PC Settings icon (formerly named Tablet and Pen Settings). Select Start, Control Panel, Mobile PC, Tablet PC Settings.

In the Tablet PC Settings dialog box that appears, the General tab is basically the same as the old Settings tab (you can switch between right-handed or left-handed menus and calibrate the pen), and the Display tab is identical to its predecessor (it offers another method to change the screen orientation).

However, the new Handwriting Recognition tab has two sections (as shown in Figure 1):

Figure 1. Use the Handwriting Recognition tab to activate new Vista features for improving handwriting recognition.


  • Personalization—  This increases the accuracy of the handwriting recognizer (the feature that converts handwritten text into typed text), but only when the Use the Personalized Recognizer check box is activated.

  • Automatic Learning— This feature collects information about your writing, including the words you write and the style in which you write them. Note that this applies not only to your handwriting—the ink you write in the Input Panel, the recognized text, and the corrected text—but also to your typing, including email messages and web addresses typed into Internet Explorer. To use this feature, activate the Use Automatic Learning option.



Working with the Tablet PC Input Panel

As with XP Tablet PC Edition, Windows Vista comes with the Tablet PC Input Panel tool that you use to enter text and other symbols with the digital pen instead of the keyboard. You have two ways to display the Input Panel:

  • In Vista, an icon for the Input Panel appears in a small tab docked on the left edge of the screen. Hover the mouse pointer over the tab to display it, and then click the icon or any part of the tab.

  • Move the pen over any area in which you can enter text (such as a text box). In most cases, the Input Panel icon appears near the text entry area. Click the icon when it appears.

Figure 2 shows the Input Panel.

Figure 2. Use the Writing Pad to write words or short phrases by hand.

Tip

You can also add an icon for the Input Panel to the Vista taskbar. Right-click the taskbar and then click Toolbars, Tablet PC Input Panel.


The layout of the Input Panel is slightly different from the XP version, with the icons for the writing pad, character pad, and onscreen Keyboard, and the Options button along the top. The miniature keyboard that appears with the writing pad and character pad is slightly different as well, with the notable difference being the addition of the Web key full time. (In XP Tablet PC Edition, the Web key appeared only when you were entering a web address.) This makes sense because users often need to write URLs in email messages and other correspondence.

The Vista Input Panel also comes with quite a few more options than its predecessor. Vista gives you two ways to see them:

  • In the Input Panel, click Tools and then click Options in the menu that appears.

  • In the Tablet PC Settings dialog box, display the Other tab and click the Go to Input Panel Settings link.

Here’s a list of some of the more significant new settings:

  • AutoComplete (Settings tab)— When this check box is activated, the Input Panel automatically completes your handwriting if it recognizes the first few characters. For example, if you’re writing an email address that you’ve entered (via handwriting or typing) in the past, Input Panel recognizes it after a character or two and displays a banner with the completed entry. You need only click the completed entry to insert it. This also works with web addresses and filenames.

  • Show the Input Panel Tab (Opening tab)— Use this check box to toggle the Input Panel tab on and off. For example, if you display the Tablet PC Input Panel toolbar in the taskbar, you might prefer to turn off the Input Panel tab.

  • You Can Choose Where the Input Panel Tab Appears (Opening tab)— Choose either On the Left Edge of the Screen (the default) or On the Right Edge of the Screen.

  • New Writing Line (Writing Pad tab)— Use this slider to specify how close to the end of the writing line you want to write to before starting a new line automatically.

  • Gestures (Gestures tab)— In XP Tablet PC Edition, you could delete handwritten text by “scratching it out” using a Z-shape gesture. Many people found this hard to master and a bit unnatural, so Vista offers several new scratch-out gestures, which you turn on by activating the All Scratch-Out and Strikethrough Gestures option.

    Note

    Vista offers four new scratch-out gestures:

    Strikethrough— A horizontal line (straight or wavy) through the text.

    Vertical scratch-out— An M- or W-shaped gesture through the text.

    Circular scratch-out— A circle or oval around the text.

    Angled scratch-out— An angled line (straight or wavy) through the text. The angle can be from top left to bottom right, or from bottom left to top right.


  • Password Security (Advanced tab)— This slider (see Figure 3) controls the security features that Vista uses when you use the pen to enter a password into a password text box. At the High setting, Vista automatically switches to the onscreen keyboard (and doesn’t allow you to switch to the writing pad or character pad) and doesn’t show the pen pointer or highlight the keys that you tap while entering the password.

    Figure 3. The Input Panel Options dialog box offers many new features, including security settings that protect password entries.

Using Pen Flicks

The Input Panel onscreen keyboard has keys that you can tap with your pen to navigate a document and enter program shortcut keys. However, if you just want to scroll through a document or navigate web pages, having the keyboard onscreen is a hassle because it takes up so much room. An alternative is to tap-and-drag the vertical or horizontal scroll box, or tap the program’s built-in navigation features (such as the Back and Forward buttons in Internet Explorer).

Vista gives you a third choice for navigating a document: pen flicks. Pen flicks are gestures that you can use in any application to scroll up and down in a document, or to navigate backward or forward in Internet Explorer or Windows Explorer:

  • Scroll up (about one screenful)— Move the pen up in a straight line

  • Scroll down (about one screenful)— Move the pen down in a straight line

  • Navigate back— Move the pen to the left in a straight line

  • Navigate forward— Move the pen right in a straight line

Tip

For a pen flick to work, you need to follow these techniques:

  • Move the pen across the screen for about half an inch (at least 10mm)

  • Move the pen very quickly

  • Move the pen in a straight line

  • Lift your pen off the screen quickly at the end of the flick


You can also set up pen flicks for other program features:

  • Copy— Move the pen up and to the left in a straight line

  • Paste— Move the pen up and to the right in a straight line

  • Delete— Move the pen down and to the right in a straight line

  • Undo— Move the pen down and to the left in a straight line

To activate and configure flicks, follow these steps:

1.
Select Start, Control Panel, Mobile PC, Pen and Input Devices. The Pen and Input Devices dialog box appears.

2.
Display the Flicks tab, shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Use the Flicks tab to activate and configure pen flicks.


3.
Activate the Use Flicks to Perform Common Actions Quickly and Easily check box.

4.
Select the flicks you want to use:

  • Navigational Flicks— Activate this option to use the Scroll Up, Scroll Down, Back, and Forward flicks.

  • Navigational Flicks and Editing Flicks— Activate this option to also use the Copy, Paste, Delete, and Undo flicks in any program.

If you activate the Navigational Flicks and Editing Flicks option, the Customize button enables. Click this button to display the Customize Flicks dialog box shown in Figure 5. You use this dialog box to apply one of Vista’s built-in actions (such as Cut, Open, Print, or Redo) to a flick. Alternatively, click (add) to create a custom action by specifying a key or key combination to apply to the flick.

Figure 5. Use the Customize Flicks dialog box to apply different actions or key combinations to a flick gesture.


Tip

If you forget which flick performs which action, you can easily find out by displaying the Pen Flicks icon in the taskbar’s notification area. In the Flicks tab, activate the Display Flicks Icon in the Notification Area check box. (Note that the icon doesn’t show up until you attempt at least one flick.) Clicking this icon displays the Current Pen Flicks Settings fly-out that shows your current flick setup.


Setting Pointer Options

While we’re in the Pen and Input Devices dialog box, I should also point out the new Pointer Options tab, shown in Figure 6. By default, Vista provides you with visual feedback when you single-tap and double-tap the pen and when you press the pen button. I find that this visual feedback helps when I’m using the pen for mouse-like actions. If you don’t, you can turn them off by deactivating the check boxes.

Figure 6. Use the new Pointer Options tab to toggle Vista’s visual feedback for pen actions such as tapping and double-tapping.


Personalizing Handwriting Recognition

When you use a Tablet PC’s digital pen as an input device, there will often be times when you don’t want to convert the writing into typed text. A quick sticky note or journal item might be all you need for a given situation. However, in plenty of situations, you need your handwriting converted into typed text. Certainly, when you’re using the Input Panel, you always want the handwriting converted to text. However, the convenience and usefulness of handwritten text directly relates to how well the handwriting recognizer does its job. If it misinterprets too many characters, you’ll spend too much time either correcting the errors or scratching out chunks of text and starting again.

Rather than just throwing up their hands and saying “That’s life with a Tablet PC,” Microsoft’s developers are doing something to ensure that you get the most out of the handwriting recognizer. Windows Vista comes with a new tool called Handwriting Personalization (select Start, All Programs, Tablet PC, Personalize Handwriting Recognition), shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Use the new Handwriting Personalization tool to improve the Tablet PC’s capability to recognize your handwriting.

This feature gives you two methods that improve the Tablet PC’s capability to recognize your handwriting (you can run separate recognition chores for each user on the computer):

  • Target Specific Recognition Errors— With this method you teach the handwriting recognizer to handle specific recognition errors. This is the method to use if you find that the Tablet PC does a pretty good job of recognizing your handwriting, but often incorrectly recognizes certain characters or words. By providing handwritten samples of those characters or words and specifying the correct conversion for them, you teach the handwriting recognizer to avoid those errors in the future.

  • Teach the Recognizer Your Handwriting Style— With this method, you teach the handwriting recognizer to handle your personal style of handwriting. This is the method to use if you find that the Tablet PC does a poor job of recognizing your handwriting in general. In this case, you provide a more comprehensive set of handwritten samples to give the handwriting recognizer an overall picture of your writing style.

If you select Target Specific Recognition Errors, you next get a choice of two wizards:

  • Character or Word You Specify— Run this wizard if a character or word is consistently being recognized incorrectly. For a character, you type the character and then provide several samples of the character in handwritten form, as shown in Figure 8 (for the lowercase letter u, in this case). The wizard then asks you to provide handwritten samples for a few characters that are similarly shaped. Finally, the wizard asks for handwritten samples of words that contain the character. For a word, the wizard asks you to type the word; then it asks you to write two samples of the word by hand.

    Figure 8. The wizard asks you to provide several handwritten samples of the character being recognized incorrectly.
  • Characters with Similar Shapes— Run this wizard if a particular group of similarly shaped characters is causing you trouble. The wizard gives you a list of the six sets of characters that most commonly cause recognition problems, as shown in Figure 9. After you choose a set, the wizard goes through each character and asks you to write by hand several samples of the character and of the character in context.

Figure 9. The wizard asks you to choose from a list of six sets of characters that are commonly confused when handwritten.

If you select Teach the Recognizer Your Handwriting Style, you get a choice of two wizards:

  • Sentences— This wizard displays a series of sentences, and you provide a handwritten sample for each. Note that there are 50 (!) sentences in all, so wait until you have a lot of spare time before using this wizard. (The wizard does come with a Save for Later button that you can click at any time to stop the wizard and still preserve your work. When you select Sentences again, the program takes you automatically to the next sentence in the sequence.)

  • Numbers, Symbols, and Letters— This wizard consists of eight screens that take you through the numbers 0 to 9; common symbols such as !, ?, @, $, &, +, #, <, and >; and all the uppercase and lowercase letters. You provide a handwritten sample for each number, symbol, and letter.

When you’re done, click Update and Exit to apply your handwriting samples to the recognizer. Note that this takes a few minutes, depending on the number of samples you provided.

Using the Snipping Tool

Windows Vista includes a feature called the Snipping Tool that enables you to use your pen to capture (“snip”) part of the screen and save it as an image or HTML file. Here’s how it works:

1.
Select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Snipping Tool. When you first launch the program, it asks if you want the Snipping Tool on the Quick Launch toolbar.

2.
Click Yes or No, as you prefer. Vista washes out the screen to indicate that you’re in snipping mode and displays the Snipping Tool window.

3.
Pull down the New list and select one of the following snip types:

  • Free-Form Snip— Choose this type to draw a freehand line around the screen area you want to capture

  • Rectangular Snip— Choose this type to draw a rectangular line around the screen area you want to capture

  • Window Snip— Choose this type to capture an entire window by tapping it

  • Full-Screen Snip— Choose this type to capture the entire screen by tapping anywhere on the screen

4.
Use your pen to define the snip, according to the snip type you chose. The snipped area then appears in the Snipping Tool window, as shown in Figure 10. From here, you save the snip as an HTML file or a GIF, JPEG, or PNG graphics file.

Figure 10. Use the new Snipping Tool to use your pen to capture part of the screen.
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