Windows Vista Tablet PC Features

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 Nowadays, of course, this pen-and-paper approach has been almost entirely superseded by electronic document editing.

However, there are still plenty of situations in which 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 to be faxed
  • Sketching out ideas or blueprints in a brainstorming session

Unfortunately, for all but the most trivial notes, writing on paper is inefficient because, in most cases, 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: the Apple Newton), that bridge was built in recent years: the Tablet PC. At first glance, many Tablet PCs look just like a small notebook computer, and it certainly can be used just like any notebook.

However, a Tablet PC boasts three hardware innovations that make it unique:

  • A pressure-sensitive touch screen that replaces the usual notebook LCD screen. Some Tablet PC screens respond to touch, but most respond to only a specific type of pen.
  • A digital pen 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 was 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 capability to physically reorient the screen so that it lies flat on top of the keyboard, thus making the machine appear like a tablet or pad of paper.

The first Tablet PCs came with their own unique operating system, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. With Windows Vista, the Tablet PCspecific 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 portrait - This orientation places the taskbar at the left edge of the display, and the top edge of the desktop at the right of the display.

Pointer Options

While we're in the Pen and Input Devices dialog box, I should also point out the new Pointer Options tab. 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 mouselike actions. If you don't, you can turn them off by deactivating the check boxes.

The Snipping Tool Windows

Vista includes a new 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. Start the Snipping Tool by selecting Start, All Programs, Accessories, Snipping Tool. Vista washes out the screen to indicate that you're in snipping mode and displays the Snipping Tool window.

You then use your pen to draw a freehand circle (or box) around the screen area you want to capture. The snipped area then appears in the Snipping Tool window. From here, you save the snip as an HTML file or a GIF, JPEG, or PNG graphics file.