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).

Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday.

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.