Hardware

Windows 8 touch screen interface and the Microsoft Touch Mouse

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz takes a look at the Microsoft Touch Mouse and discusses the ways in which it will help us to gradually move to the Windows 8 touch screen interface.
Last week's article, Should there be separate tablet and desktop editions of Windows 8?, generated quite a discussion in the forum with folks weighing in on both sides of the argument - for and against having one edition of Windows 8 for both touch screen tablets and keyboard/mouse desktops. While I was reading through the comments I encountered a link to a video titled A Day Made of Glass, which shows off the Corning (the makers of Gorilla Glass) vision for the future of the touch screen using specialty glass. (Thanks to reader DudeMacs for sharing this link in the forum.)

As I was watching the video and pondering the future of a world with touch screens everywhere you go, I began thinking about the potential difficulties of making the transition from the mouse to the gesture as a means of working on a desktop system. Then it hit me! Microsoft is already working on a transitional device - the Microsoft Touch Mouse.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll take a look at the Microsoft Touch Mouse. As I do, I'll discuss the ways in which it will help us to gradually move from a mouse controlled user interface to the touch screen interface.

Note: Keep in mind that at the time this article is being written, the Microsoft Touch Mouse is not yet available. Microsoft is promising a summer 2011 release and several online outlets are taking pre-order sales. My contacts with Microsoft have promised me an evaluation unit as soon as it is available. At that time, I will provide a proper product review.

The timely introduction

As you may know, at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Microsoft unveiled the Microsoft Touch Mouse, a new multitouch device that combines the physical features of a mouse with the ability to use the gestures associated with the touch screen. At the show, Microsoft described the device as being designed to help users take advantage of multitouch gestures in Windows 7. Microsoft claims that the Touch Mouse will allow you to do everything that you are used to doing with a mouse such as point, click, and drag. However, the Touch Mouse also adds the ability to use gestures - simply by moving your fingers across the surface of the mouse.

Using one, two or three finger gestures, you be able to perform host of touch screen-like operations. For instance, using one finger lets you work with documents by flicking to quickly scroll, pan and tilt. Use your thumb to move back or forward through a Web browser or a picture viewer. Using two fingers you can manage windows - maximizing, minimizing, snapping and restoring them. Using three fingers, you will be able to show or hide the desktop as well as initiate the Instant Viewer - a feature that displays thumbnails of all open windows on the desktop (think Alt-Tab).

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A long time coming

The Touch Mouse is the culmination of several years of engineering by Microsoft Research teams in Redmond and Cambridge. Hrvoje Benko, a researcher in the Adaptive Systems and Interaction Group at Microsoft Research in Redmond describes the process:

"We were all intrigued by the idea of merging the precision and pointing benefits of standard mice with the rich interactions that we had with multi-touch devices, such as Microsoft Surface," said Benko. "We wanted to see if we could bring multi-touch interactions to the desktop without losing the keyboard or the mouse."

Over the years, the teams experimented with different technologies to emulate touch screen functionality, such as cameras, articulation, and capacitive-sensing, as well as a host of different form factors. Some examples of this early work are shown in Figure A. This image comes from a 10-page document titled Mouse 2.0: Multi-touch Meets the Mouse (PDF), which is available on the Microsoft Applied Science Group site.

Figure A

While developing the next generation mouse, the Microsoft Research teams experimented with different technologies and form factors.
Eventually, the teams decided on a capacitive-sensing model, which provides functionality very much like a touch screen. As you can see in Figure B, the surface of the Touch Mouse is populated with a multitude of touch-sensing electrodes that track movement and essentially simulate a touch screen. This image comes from the Microsoft Touch Mouse product site, which features more photos, a promotional video and other information about the Touch Mouse.

Figure B

The surface of the Touch Mouse is populated with a multitude of sensors the track movement and essentially simulate a touch screen.

A gesture in the right direction

While at this point in time Microsoft is positioning the Touch Mouse as being designed for Windows 7, now that we have seen the Windows 8 demo, my bet is that Microsoft is planning on using the Microsoft Touch Mouse and its introduction within the Window 7 timeframe to get us ready for using Windows 8 and the Metro user interface.

Just think about it for a moment. If Microsoft gets us all into using the Touch Mouse now, by the time Windows 8 is released, we'll all be clamoring for more touch-based features in the Windows 8 interface and chances are that we won't be so worried about the diminishment of point and click on a desktop system.

Of course, the keyboard is a different story. I, for one can't imagine using a desktop system without my Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard.

What's your take?

Do you think that the Microsoft Touch Mouse is here now to prepare us for Windows 8 and the Metro user interface? Will you be thinking of purchasing a Touch Mouse for your Windows 7 system? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

65 comments
fgraham
fgraham

Ditto on this great combo. Chg the zoom lever to scroll. Prg keys & clicks. No carpal. Waiting to demo the Touch Mouse first before try W8. Happy W7 x64 Ultimate. TM reviews lately bit iffy. Demo of Arc mouse thing wasn't a go, others felt same. 7000 mouse is exceptional way to cut/avoid carpal. 1 click to close app. And with a 24' monitor for work & play well later for a touch screen in that range. Be kinda heavy in lap. On desk I guess would have to lean it up somehow. But all the ergo writings say eyes in middle of an upright screen is best. Looking down flat or even tilted?? Neck & shoulder strain for sure. Hurry with the Thought Touch system for W10.

dan man
dan man

Try positioning your keyboard lower or closer to your body. You may want to look at putting your keyboard or mouse on a 'lap desk' or other physical support.

LittleWashu
LittleWashu

My only issue with touch-screen tech is something that I learned on my iTouch... If it develops even a minor crack or chip in the touch areas, that small area becomes unusable. And if the crack or chip should grow, then more of that area becomes unusable. At least with a regular mouse, if your button cracks or the laser underneath gets a little ding, it keeps on trucking as if nothing is wrong. Edit note: I know it's hypocritical of me to say this... But I'll probably end up getting one anyways for kicks and giggles.

jamcomp
jamcomp

I would not use this technology due to the fact that I like the feedback that I get from a "conventional" mouse where you have to move your finger a millimeter more and move a scroll wheel at your pace to move down a website, or document of any kind. Judging from the mouse, it seems you have to make the same "gestures" anyways. So I really don't see the point in moving to the new technology when the old technolgy works just fine. The only thing that I could see being a plus in this instance is being able to move your hand in a certain fashion to be able to zoom in or our, and also to minimize all windows in Windows 7 Aero.

rmaltes1
rmaltes1

What would happen to us gamers, I'm still game and wouldn't change my Logitech G700 or my Cyborg RAT 7. wouldn't it be easier if it was just a small pad with different commands at the touch of your fingers? That I would try!!

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

Apple does, only a few years later. Can you say "Apple Magic Mouse?" Same idea. Why is it that Microsoft is FOREVER playing catch up with Apple? The same thing with Windows version 6.2 (aka Windows 8). Now they want to make it more of a touch o/s, after Apple already has introduced iOS. What would be nice is if they would charge the same amount for a point upgrade to their OS as Apple does, but they will not.

jsquared16
jsquared16

What about people who can't use their fingers? It would be difficult with one finger, or impossible, let alone using 2 or 3 fingers.

jnijkerk
jnijkerk

What's wrong with the mouse or with a Wacom pen? I use them both. But imagine me, a simple and innocent photographer, sitting comfortable in front of my two coupled 21" screens, reaching out for some Photoshop touch-screen brushtool. Tell me, who's insane? ;-)) The invention of the family PC strikes my mind: daddy enjoys his soccer, the daughter is writing a scription, her brother is watching the A-team and mom is involved with her knitting program and is involved with the construction of some pulls. At the same time. This ended in a dramatical apocalyps, the pounding of some AK-47's and a few explosions of some handgrenades in the peacefull wAr, it's all about how to get in control of the bitbox. Good luck, sometimes some 'practical solutions' are flushed through the drain very soon... That;s the way the touch screen and similar human interface devices will have to go.... ;-))

Falls PC
Falls PC

When the wheel was added to the mouse it really made a difference in productivity. I'm sure that this mouse will help in many ways once you get used to it.

capewaydesign
capewaydesign

I use AutoCad I trust any new option for Vector drafting will take such programs into account.

doug
doug

I can't wait to try it ??? it looks fasinating

dhamilt01
dhamilt01

Personal Computers gave us the keyboard and mouse. Millions and millions of carpal tunnel disabled people later, what's this new technology gonna give us?

galliodo
galliodo

I envision something that would be a cross between a mouse and Kinect so that you could make certain motions in front of a screen to control the computer. I have read that people are hacking the Kinect and doing this, but I think Microsoft needs to jump on this and make it standard. That really could eliminate the mouse.

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

Yes, Apple has a touch mouse. Wouldn't it be too bad if when MS launches their touch mouse, Apple brings a patent/copyright suit against MS? If Apple were smart, they would market their touch mouse for Windows. Not likely, their noses are stuck to high in the air.

joel
joel

It is an evolution, like everything else around us. We figured a nice tool to work with, now it must evolve to match everything else that is evolving around it.

ben
ben

Touchscreens are fine for portable devices used where you don't have a flat surface handy and/or much space at all (in economy on an airliner, for example), it is a compromise. Good for the industry that makes those screen-cleaner packets, though. The mouse, with all it;s flaws, is much easier to use quickly and precisely. I feel the same way about the touchpad. Why should we abandone what works most of the time? Even Apple allows it's users to use a mouse and a keyboard, if you spend the money for a MACbook :-).

jlmonroyhdez
jlmonroyhdez

I think it is time for windows to really fork their business and common users OSs. Their should offer two Windows operation systems: One for the general public and one for business. Touchscreen is nice but unproductive. I would make windows for business without multimedia options. Make it simple and fast. Retro? Maybe but in business we need productivity or we may move to linux.

jlambert
jlambert

I'm 64 years old and have been in computer service since early 80's and with arthritis in my hands anything that will replace having to click a mouse button will be welcome. Using a touch screen that I have to reach across my desk to us will not replace mouse, but a touch mouse sounds like a good start.

erik.pauwels
erik.pauwels

does this also mean we will have to modify/lower all desks in the offices to receive build-in monitors, slightly angled to operate as touch screen... or are we talking iPads cloned to Windows OS.

richard.warren
richard.warren

The Touchmouse sounds like a welcome refinement, but it doesn't sound like the kind of breakthrough approach we need to finally leave the mouse behind us. From where I'm sitting, that will probably be a combination of facial recognition and heat-mapping technologies so those little cameras built into almost everything we already use can watch our eyes and see where on the screen we're looking. Coupled with verbal interaction, that approach could genuinely leap forward in interface technology.

MikeInMexico
MikeInMexico

To catch up with Apple et al who are widening the gap all the time..

pocomo
pocomo

I have 7 computers, one XP, 5 Win7 and one MacBook Pro with Win7 VM'd on it. After using the Apple Magic Mouse on the MacBook Pro with both Apples OS and Win7, I think the idea of a touch mouse is great, if I could use the Apple Magic Mouse on all my computers, I would. The only thing negative about the Magic Mouse from Apple is that for people with larger hands, it's too small, and it looks like MS's touch mouse is larger, so that's great. The operation is smooth and intuitive, even with some arthritis in my hands. You oldfarts, things change, sometimes for the worst, most often for the better, and this is for the better. Get over it, I,m 69 years old and I have gotten over it, so can you.

mjc5
mjc5

... and always will be. In the mid-90's the mouse was also going to be replaced by various devices. Things that looked like cue balls that you rolled. Strange doo-dads that you tilted in different directions in the air. Joystick like things. I tried many, and went back to a mouse. Why? Because it works. Even now on a laptop, I'll plug in a mouse unless it's just a short task. The thing that is funny is that a whole lot of technology is being applied to "solve" a problem that doesn't exist. replace an inexpensive mouse with all this? Go to a touch screen? I suppose you could, if your work only has very coarse movements or large buttons. The are also going to be some sore shoulders out there when people enjoy the new position they have to use to touch the screen. Look at where touch screens are used now. Likely a store, when the person is well above the screen. Not much of an issue for movement. Or a pad or smartphone. All well below your eyes, and they work pretty well (but note that you are simply making gross adjustments, nothing requiring fine movement) Now lets take touch screen input on a typical desktop. The mid point of my display is about 1 inch below my eye level while sitting at my desk. Lifting my arm is awkward in that situation. If I do that all day, my aging shoulder joints will feel that for sure. Simply bad ergonomics. The mouse is dead - long live the mouse.

otrohd193
otrohd193

I've been at this for a long time. I remember back in the early '80s when people first started using mice, and I actually remember commenting, "It's a fad, I'll never use one of those!" Needless to say, I was a bit off there. I agree with the comments regarding the use of touch screens for things like development work and everyday office repetitive tasks. My arm gets tired just thinking about creating a big spreadsheet with a touchscreen. I guess we'll just have to wait for the day when you think it and it appears on screen. Probably not as far off as we think.

donaldgagnon1
donaldgagnon1

Having tried the newest touch screens on the HP desktops, I found the reach and unusual back positions to be very disturbing. In limited applications, like point of sale (restaurants, etc), touch screens are fine, but for hours of desktop program use it just doesn't work. A touch sensitive mouse might just be the more sensible approach since you can keep you arm and hand in a more comfortable position with less stretching (and straining). All that being said, however, the design and sensitivity of such a mouse is something I guess you'll have to just experience for yourself in making the decision. Having worked with the Adesso TouchPad in concert with a standard mouse, I found that they both offered specific benefits. Maybe a touch sensitive mouse will combine the best of both units. Hard to say for sure until I actually try one.

egmccann
egmccann

Not for me, thanks - and I'd say a fair number of the same arguments apply to the touch mouse as "Will tablets take over?" No, they won't. Not going to use a touch mouse and hope it's not sensitive enough to start me zooming/scrolling/etc with random finger moves. Certainly not going to use it for gaming. Plus, frankly, how expensive will it be? A few people will buy it because "ooh, it's cool," others will use it because someone includes it with their system and they don't care (and couldn't tell a mouse from mousse,) everyone else will be perfectly happy with anything from their $3 special to their $200 gaming mouse.

acoastwalker
acoastwalker

It provides a bridge to youngsters who have gesture enabled mobile gadgets but its not as ergonomic as a two button mouse for heavy duty desktop work. It has its place but woe betide Microsoft if they ruin the mouse interface by overemphasis of this user interface option. Its a gimmick that we will have to put up with for a while, I don't remember the joystick or game-pad taking over the user interface even though it was the choice of one new generation. Similarly this will find its place in the scheme of things alongside all the other diversions that have come and gone. Stylus input anyone?

Baldrel
Baldrel

Whats the difference from a magic mouse/ magic trackpad? I looked at the mouse and it lust looks like a more ergonomic but more ugly magic mouse. I have completely replaced my mouse with a magic trackpad, even on windows it is an amazing device. The uses for it are only going to increase with Lion and later Win 8. I don't like metro much, it doesn't seem natural to me. I am sure i will get used to it, perhaps even like it.

m1scha_m
m1scha_m

This sounds like something someone who doesn't suffer from arthritis would design. Try holding you hands out in front of you for any length of time and see how you feel. Now if possible try it while you have joint stiffness or degenerating shoulders. Its bad enough using a mouse and keyboard. Of course if Microsoft came up with an expensive alternative that did not require the disabled to maintain that posture for an extended period, that may just price many right out of the market.

SHCA
SHCA

As a survivor of the original green-screen PCs, I've never been able to get fluent with my laptop touchpad, let alone the gestures paradigm. I look forward to using MS's touch mouse to train my fingers for the new generation of touch devices.

TuneUp Utilities
TuneUp Utilities

Nice article Greg! I have to admit the Touch Mouse looks pretty cool ??? I think it???s definitely preparing users for the new user interface that will be featured in Windows 8. I do agree that this doesn???t seem like a ???new??? technology, but I do love the look of Metro so I???m pretty excited to see how it all turns out.

Par-Pro
Par-Pro

All laptops have a touch mouse all M$ has done is put a hunch on it. Even Desktops can use a flat pad mouse. This will just be a flash in the pan. New tech thats not new.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

If you have touch keyboards and mice that effectively eliminates the need for a touch screen which means I wouldn't be constantly reaching half-way across my desk to use it.

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

I use a Logitech wireless mouse that does 99% of the touch pad functions already, only does it with buttons. What's the hype? It's nice technology, but seems unnecessary for a mouse.

ahin4114
ahin4114

..or is this a Magic mouse in dark glasses?

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

I'm almost 50 and have been using gesture enabled gadgets since my First PocketPC (10 years?) and while this will be nice for a Windows computer we already have fully touch aware screens on computers. Heck we've been using touch screens and gestures for our control systems for years. Now does anyone have any Linux drivers yet for this device? (Not that I'm saying everyone should use Linux, I use Windows and Linux and other OSs all day; they are tools where each has their strengths and weaknesses and each has their own place in the world of computing.)

Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

I imagine that if the "killer" interface shows up, then everyone will focus on getting the rest of the hardware out of its way. Ferinstance, computers might evolve away from displays at arms length, and to more of a table-top orientation, which would be perfectly adequate for many uses (but notably not for all).

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Try positioning your keyboard lower or closer to your body. You may want to look at putting your keyboard or mouse on a 'lap desk' or other physical support.

mishkafofer
mishkafofer

touch surfaces and mouses are not against devices for the disabled. This is not a zero sum game or some centralized manufacturing operation (aka USSR) that replaces junk A for Junk B. The mouse is here to stay so you don't need to worry, even trackball cannot kill it.

Cybrduck
Cybrduck

It's not that a touch pad doesn't act like a mouse. It's that a touch pad cannot then act like your finger is on the surface of a touch screen monitor. It's either or. The bottom or "optical" of the mouse acts like the touch pad surface. The top of the mouse acts like the touch screen. Try to use the buttons on your touch pad to swipe. Ouch! I can see how a large enough touch pad could be used to simulate the surface of the touch screen however.

Slayer_
Slayer_

The mouse shape is very unergonomic, a huge hump in the middle of your hand is very unnatural. If they turned the mouse around it might be better.... Also, from that demo, I see no reason why this couldn't work under any Windows OS.

Rndmacts
Rndmacts

The idea of touch mouse has been in development for several years and became serious when touch was first introduced with Vista and refined in Windows 7. Microsoft has been displaying various technologies for several years now, and this is the culmiation of some of that research, is it an interim measure of final step, only Microsoft knows. For those complaining about touch screens and fingerprints, there are now coatings for glass now that make it resistent to fingerprints.

Realvdude
Realvdude

otherwise Apple would be suing the pants of MS, right?

tiago
tiago

The Microsoft M.O. is to take what is better in the industry, re brand, and launch it as a new breakthrough technology. I got to admit that they're good on it, though. BTW, it looks more ergonomic than the Magic Mouse.

cue.burn
cue.burn

My thoughts exactly! Cool technology? Yes. New technology? No.

mswift
mswift

If you had an early touch screen pocket PC that is, sadly, more than 10 years ago. The first Jornada was 13 years ago and it was not the first one with a touch screen.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Hah! I'm sure MS will include those on the driver CD! :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

First, I hate cordless mice that have to be fed batteries. That doesn't apply to this device alone. The device looks too small for my preference. I like a big ol' honkin' mouse. I dislike using my thumb, it cramps very quickly. I suspect the two-finger and three-finger gestures would also cause me pain, assuming I could remember the gestures. Yeah, I know; I wouldn't have to use those feature. But if I'm not going to use the features, why have a premium mouse?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

if this is what the new MS toy looks like to many of you, I may have to revise my expectations. I'm rather ham-fingered when manipulating a touchpad, and I'm concerned I'd be accidentally sending signals I don't wish to with this class of input device. However, I'd at least have to try such a device before deciding. I don't expect to be one of the first to try it, though.

mswift
mswift

Surface is a Microsoft product, out for over 4 years now that allows for 52 touches of the surface at the same time. Maybe you think Apple holds the patent on fingers?