Getting touchy with Windows 7 Touch Pack

Microsoft has made the Windows 7 Touch Pack--games and applications for touchscreen displays--available for download.

Windows 7 was designed to leverage new, cutting edge interfaces and input mechanisms like touchscreens. Unfortunately, some of the cooler stuff that Microsoft developed for the touchscreen interface was reserved for OEM manufacturers to bundle with touch-enabled Windows 7 systems-until now.

I remember the first time I saw a demonstration video of the Microsoft Surface concept. As a techie and a gadget geek, I was more than impressed, and I immediately put one on my wish list. Alas, the only place I have really seen the Surface concept in action is when MSNBC used it during the last election cycle to counter the CNN "magic wall".

After getting Windows 7, though, I did finally get a touchscreen Acer T230H monitor. The monitor has its own software which works with Windows 7, so I have been able to use basic touchscreen functionality--tapping on programs to open them, or tapping the "X" to shut a window down, etc.

But, now Microsoft is making the Windows 7 Touch Pack available for download--providing anyone with Windows 7 and a touch-enabled display to take advantage of some of the games and applications that were previously reserved for the Microsoft Surface, or certain Windows 7 touch-enabled offerings.

The Windows 7 Touch Pack site describes the included games and applications:

• Microsoft Blackboard , an intricate game of physics in which you solve a puzzle by creating a fanciful machine on a blackboard.

• Microsoft Garden Pond , a tranquil game that takes place in serene Japanese water gardens.

• Microsoft Rebound , a game in which you use your fingertips to control Tesla spheres with an electrical field between them to catapult a metal game ball into your opponent's goal.

• Microsoft Surface Globe , a program that you can use to explore the earth as a flat 2-D map or as an immersive 3-D experience.

• Microsoft Surface Collage , a program that you can use to explore and interact with your photos and arrange them as a desktop background.

• Microsoft Surface Lagoon , a screen saver and interactive water simulation, complete with a meditative rock arrangement and playful, shy fish.

The Surface Lagoon screen saver is sort of cool, and the Blackboard, Garden Pond, and Rebound games can be used for a break from the mundane, but the only two applications that offer any potential productive usefulness are Surface Globe and Surface Collage.

Admittedly, even these applications offer only marginal productivity for most people. However, the apps, and the games are all good examples of the sorts of interactions that are becoming more prevalent, and they offer an opportunity to work with the touchscreen interface and adapt to the panning, pinching and zooming conventions in an entertaining way.

Following the launch of the Apple iPad, 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. Whether you choose a tablet built on the iPhone OS, Windows 7, Android, Linux, or any other operating system, one feature that is common across all tablet devices is that the touchscreen display is the primary interface.

I don't expect physical keyboards and mice to fade away any time soon, but I can imagine it happening at some point. As newer touchscreen displays and software are developed that are more sensitive and responsive--overcoming the slow, clunky nature of some of the early attempts at touchscreen displays--the touchscreen is proving itself as a natural and intuitive form of interacting with computers and mobile devices.

If you have Windows 7, and a touchscreen display, I recommend you download the Windows 7 Touch Pack and see what Microsoft has to offer. I am still keeping that Surface table on my wish list, though. It would make a bad ass coffee table.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies. He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW. You can follow him on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com.

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