By John Swenson
I never used to think much about how I pointed and clicked on my computer. I've used dozens of mice over the years (some a lot better than others), and a wide variety of touchpads on various laptops. But it wasn't until I tried Windows 7 on a laptop with a touchscreen that I started wondering whether pointing and clicking is really the best way to go.
I discovered that controlling Windows with my fingertips is more fun than using a mouse or touchpad. After I learned the basic touch gestures in Windows 7, my fingertip felt like a more natural pointing mechanism—especially for finger-friendly tasks such as scrolling through long webpages or documents, flipping back a page in Internet Explorer, or sliding open Jump Lists from the taskbar.
This is not to say I've quit using a mouse or touchpad. My desktop PC doesn't have a touchscreen, so I continue to use a mouse. And even though my laptop does have a touchscreen, I still use the touchpad. But now I move back and forth between using touch on my laptop screen and a touchpad or mouse, depending on what I'm doing.
But some tasks are easier with a gesture. For example, it feels natural to give a webpage a flick with my fingertip if I want to scroll quickly to the bottom. Or, I can just keep my fingertip on the screen and drag the page up or down as I read.
But when I need to work with file lists, spreadsheets, and other programs that require a lot of precise pointing, I still find a touchpad or mouse easier.
Windows Touch isn't just for laptops, although some experts predict touch will be most popular on laptops, especially on models with smaller screens.
I've tried Windows Touch on a large touchscreen monitor that's part of an all-in-one desktop PC. I don't find touch quite as natural on a big desktop monitor, because you have to reach up higher.
Touch shines on a laptop because the screen is right in front of your hands. You only have to reach a few inches to put your fingertips to use.
My favorite way to use touch in Windows 7 is flicking with my fingertip. I do a lot of reading on my computer, and touch only makes it easier. It takes just a quick flick to scroll up or down a long webpage. Sometimes I flick the page as fast as I can just to see how much it will bounce when the window reaches the bottom. Other times I just grab the side of my laptop screen and use my thumb to slowly scroll up or down.
Here are a few of my other favorite touch gestures.
Jump Lists—new in Windows 7—display recently opened items, such as files, folders, or websites, organized by the programs you use to open them. To open a Jump List with a mouse or touchpad, you have to right-click a program icon on the Windows 7 taskbar. To open a Jump List on a touchscreen, just slide your fingertip up the icon. It feels like you're pushing the Jump List up and out of the icon—pretty slick.
For more information, see Jump Lists and Using Jump Lists to open programs and items.
You can use Snap to maximize a window, which makes it easier to focus on that window with less distraction from other open windows. On a touchscreen, just drag a window with your fingertip to the top of the screen to make it fill the screen. Put your fingertip on the title bar and drag up. Or, you can drag the window to one side of your screen to make the window fill half of your screen.
For more information, see Snap and Maximize windows on the desktop using Snap.
You can use Shake to quickly minimize every open window except the one you're shaking. It's easy and fun to grab the title bar of a window with your fingertip, give it a quick shake, and watch everything else disappear to reveal your desktop.
This feature can save you time if you want to focus on a single window without minimizing all of your other open windows one by one. You can then restore all of those windows by shaking the open window again.
For more information, see Shake and Minimize windows on the desktop using Shake.
Peek lets you take a quick look at all the windows you have open without clicking away from the window you're currently working on. I think Peek works best on a touchscreen, since it's so easy to touch a program button on the taskbar and slide your fingertip across a row of thumbnails, previewing the contents of each open window. When you see the window you want, just tap its thumbnail.
As you slide your fingertip back and forth over a row of thumbnails above your taskbar, the previews smoothly fade open and shut. If you have a lot of windows open, it's almost hypnotic to watch.
For more information, see Peek and Preview an open window on the desktop using Peek.
In addition to using your fingertip to scroll up or down through long webpages and documents, you can also flick forward or back to webpages you've already visited in Internet Explorer.
Flicking through webpages you've visited is easier and quicker than clicking the Forward or Back buttons in your browser. To go back to the last webpage you visited, just place a fingertip on the current page and flick it to the right, like you're trying to flip backward through the pages of a book.
To go forward a webpage, flick the page to the left, like you're trying to brush it off the left side of your screen. (Note that you can only flick a page forward if you've already visited the next webpage, or back if you've already visited the previous webpage.)
One of the hardest tasks to do with your fingertips is tap a link on a webpage crowded with other links, especially if you're using a laptop with a small screen. It's easy to be just a little off and hit the wrong link.
To make sure you hit the link you want every time, start by tapping two fingertips anywhere on the page to instantly zoom in on that spot. Then tap the link you want, which is now easier because you magnified the link.
This two-finger tap gesture is simple and takes only a second. It's an easy way to open links with touch.
I saved this for last, since not every Windows Touch user also uses Windows Media Center. But if you are a Media Center fan, you'll discover it's great on a touchscreen. That's because Media Center in Windows 7 was designed for smooth and easy touch navigation. It has big, widely spaced labels and buttons that are easy to tap with a fingertip if you're using Media Center on a touchscreen.
If you have a lot of pictures, music, or TV programs you scroll through in Media Center, you'll find it's easy to do this with touch. Just give your list of pictures, albums, or programs a flick to send them scrolling (panning) quickly past. You can scan dozens of items in seconds.
For more information, see Getting started with Windows Media Center.
So there you have it—that's my list. You might come up with a completely different list of your own favorite touch gestures, depending on what you do with your PC.
If you've never tried Windows Touch and you're in the market for a new laptop to run Windows 7, consider buying one with a touchscreen (or, if you prefer, an all-in-one desktop PC with a touchscreen). You might find yourself rethinking the way you point and click.
About the author
John Swenson is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. In his 12 years at Microsoft, he's done everything from interviewing technical leaders around the company to helping computer novices understand Windows. He previously worked as a business and technology reporter for newspapers and magazines.
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