Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7: why it’s a Swiss Army Knife of multitouch demoes for OEMs

wintouchpack

The Windows 7 blog today showed off a collection of multitouch-exclusive softwares and games collectively known as the “Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7“. As many eager Windows 7 users with multitouch-enabled PCs (ex. Dell Latitude XT2 and HP TouchSmart, etc.) may have noticed, you can’t actually download or install these today. You might be wondering, why would they announce something so interesting and not release it? Or even more so why not bundle the cool games into Windows 7? I think that’s because this is actually not aimed at end users, but a clever plan to compel OEMs to certify their touch Windows PCs.

touchpackFor most people, a platform is only as good as its applications. Therefore to sell a platform, you need highly captivating demos. Up and until very much today, Windows 7’s (multi)touch capabilities were a bullet point for developers. It’s APIs offer developers a slew of touch gestures to implement into their applications, but relatively few built-in advantages for end-users. The taskbar buttons were bigger and you could flick some photos around, hardly captivating selling points in a retail environment if you could imagine.

Of course, some vendors took it upon themselves to come up with value-added touch functionality for their touch-enabled PCs, like HP’s TouchSmart software for their TouchSmart PCs (bonus points for consistency), but many and probably the large majority don’t provide any extras out of the box. This is where the Touch Pack for Windows 7 comes in.

Now Microsoft’s done the hard work to make multitouch look cool and practical on Windows 7 PCs and instilled the desire to have them in users, OEMs aren’t just going to get them for nothing, they’re going to have to work for it.

As mentioned in the blog post, Microsoft is only going to provide these applications to OEMs who certify their hardware under the Windows Touch logo program, a new quality-assurance program exclusively for touch-enabled Windows PCs. The Engineering 7 blog touched on the testing procedures a couple of months ago, and more detail is available on MSDN and WHDC too. Basically it’s a pretty rigorous process to ensure a quality touch experience with a set of standardized tests.

As someone who’s fiddled with many tablet and touch Windows PCs, I can see why Microsoft is being more strict on the touch experience. It is everything but consistent – including but not limited to accuracy, sensitivity and even the coating of the display. Frankly speaking, there might not be that much substance to the Touch Pack, but it’s a good leverage for Microsoft to enforce a minimum quality bar for touch-enabled Windows PCs going forward. Otherwise in the words of a popular meme, “it’s a trap!”

11 insightful thoughts

  1. Anyone else think the Touch Pack hits a little to close to Ultimate Extras? It is a useless pack that adds very little or no value and is limited to a small part of the install base.

    Microsoft should be including this and the Ultimate Extras software/packs with every version of Windows or as a standalone download. When an application demands you have a multi-touch surface, demand it and do one of two things: (1) have a backwards compat. mode for single touch / keyboard use or (2) deny the use of the application.

    The only time I see a Touch Pack needing a limited distribution is when it substantially or fundamentally changes how the user interacts with the OS. At that point, however, you might as well bake it into a new SKU called Windows Touch or something.

  2. Oh wow, I forgot all about Ultimate Extras and come to think of it it definitely smells of Ultimate Extras v2.0. :)

  3. ARGH!
    I want to try it out on the Latitude XT, but no… *shakes fist at Microsoft*
    Why can’t they make it available at least an expiring beta?!?!
    Dammit.

  4. It’s frustrating when Microsoft make releases OEM-only like this, especially for those of us who may be our own OEMs (i.e. built our own machines from parts, though that’s not many laptop users and even fewer touch users).

    Media Center was the worst/best example of this and it’s great that it was made available at retail in Vista and Win 7. But MS still did the same with the Media Center TV Pack update (though part of the reason for that seems to be that the update is full of bugs and they seem to want to hide it from people who don’t really need it, heh).

    I wouldn’t say everything has to be integrated into Windows or delivered via Windows Update, nor that all extra features should be free. What I do say is that you shouldn’t have to (re-)buy particular hardware from particular vendors after a particular time just to get certain OS features. If MS don’t want to give them away free then that’s fine, sell the add-ons via the web like every other software company these days.

    Making features hard for people to obtain is also a sure-fire way to make them less likely to reach a critical mass of adoption, not to mention developer support (though devs can usually get stuff through MSDN/TechNet). Touch already has those problems since it requires unusual hardware. Making people jump through hoops to get the OS components only seems to make things worse.

    OTOH it is a bit of a balancing act as some crappy hardware could make people think that the touch support in Windows is awful when it’s the hardware’s fault, but I don’t really see the difference between that and some of the awful TV tuners (and drivers for them) on the market. MS could always make the OS features refuse to run unless a known-good device is detected. They still get certification and control of which devices are allowed, without making it a royal pain for people who have such a device to install the features. (Keeping in mind that OEM are *absolutely useless* as providing this stuff and keeping it updated on their websites when it’s left up to them.)

  5. Wow very nice technology, if this technology was within my price range I would be all over it. However like all the best things in life, the price will drop on touchscreen monitors as they become more mainstream. Its nice that Windows 7 has all this great technology built in… if I was a British MP I would definately be kitting out my second home and office with a Microsoft Surface and a couple of touch screen laptops!

    Seriously though, Im always suprised that I dont see more of this great technology being used in more places, my only regular exposure to touch technology is the my local ATM and the self-checkouts at Fresh and Easy and Home Depot. The technology has more potential than that, the Microsoft Surface Lagoon sounds like something my kids would really like.

  6. The original article says:

    “After general availability of Windows 7, we will look at making the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7 even more broadly available based on feedback from customers and partners. ”

    So it might not only be available for OEMs right?

  7. What I would like to see, is for Microsoft to allow users without touch enabled devices to harness those touch capabilities.

  8. awesome move MS. They had heaps of potential with the Tablet PC concept wayy back then but only something from Apple could bring interest en masse. Windows 7 is their comeback party so they want to ensure the best experience , and this time get the OEMS involved. Hope it works as I’d like a push towards touch in the near future and not receive the same fate as Vista’s ‘windows sideshow’ feature.

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