Its probably difficult to figure when the concept of touch computing first came about. History tells us that as far back as 1980s, there was fascination with the idea of entering data into computers outside of the keyboard and mouse, in particular – using a pen.
Conrad Blickenstorfer, publisher of the website Rugged PCs, , and the long-time editor-in-chief of Pen Computing Magazine, wrote that early efforts by software giant, Microsoft, as well as other vendors like GO, Nestor and CIC, did not produce the expected influx of demand for pen-based. Blickenstorfer wrote that by 1995 pen computing was all but dead. The idea of using anything other the keyboard to interact with a computing device did not die though. The market for such technology survived in niche vertical applications like digital design. Even today, there are still lots of pen-based digital devices from pocket digital dictionaries and personal digital assistants, and smartphones.
Bill Gates, co-founder and ex-CEO of Microsoft, has been a staunch supporter of the concept with various generations of the Microsoft Windows operating system being embedded with the technology (did you know that Microsoft introduced pen extensions into Windows 3.1?). But while there was enthusiasm for such as technology that would allow you to input data into a computer from anything other than a physical keyboard, the actual software and hardware technologies present at the time did not make the experience worth engaging users.
Next came Tablet PCs.
Even when Microsoft launched a tablet edition of its very popular Windows XP Professional operating system, the popularity of tablet PCs didn’t really catch on. Pundits like Steve Jobs of Apple Computer claimed the technology would never fly – that the product use was limited to surfing the web. Of course Steve Jobs should never be taken seriously when it comes to lambasting technologies Apple does not currently market. He is using what every militarist and aspiring business strategist uses – misdirection.
The launch of the iPhone and iPod Touch revived interes in the technology using the human fingers as the primary medium for entering data. But where Apple presented us with the notion that it is possible to use your fingers to enter data into a computing device, I’d argue that it was Microsoft’s development of the Surface Technology that gives us a glimpse of what is possible (in the future).
In the here and now, though, the arrival of touch-ready Microsoft Windows7 signals a commercial revival of the notion of pen computing or tablet computing or touch computing. In 2009, pundits and analysts predicted that 2010 will be the year of the tablet PC (or touch depending on who you talk to). True to form, we are starting to see new generations of computers that either have touch screens or trackpad that support multi-touch. But this only where the operating system is either Windows7 or Apple OSX. The Linux variants have yet to respond.
But let me make it clear. If you are interested in buying a new PC because you like what you read about multi-touch technology, if the software application you plan to use extensively on this new PC does not support the technology, you won’t benefit from its feature until the software developer makes it happen.
Side note: I bought my daughter an HP Touchsmart TX2 in 2009. It was running Windows Vista Home. It was both pen and touch base. And while it had its kinks (occasional software and hardware glitches), it worked for the most part. I made a mistake of buying Microsoft Windows7 Professional edition with the understanding that Microsoft put a Vista to 7 migration path. Little did I know that this only worked if you bought the same version of the next generation OS (ie., if you have Vista Home, get 7 Home. If you have Vista Professional, get 7 Professional). So I ended up doing a full install of Windows7. What both Microsoft and HP failed to tell me on their website though is that I would lose a lot of the original add-on software that HP created for the TX2 in the process.
So now I am tempted to do a full recovery on the TX2 just to get back most of the software that came with the original HP Touchsmart TX2. Bummer!