08 July 2007

Vista Tablet Input Panel

Vista comes with a handwriting recognition system for tablet PCs, so if you have a tablet device, such as a Wacom graphics tablet, you can enter text using a pen interface. If you are used to pen interfaces on handheld devices, then the Vista version is - um - different. You can only write in a special dialog called the Tablet Input Panel (TIP), not anywhere on the screen and you have to insert the text into your text field or document window. The TIP takes some getting used to. It always appears on top of all windows if you float the window. If you dock it at the top or the bottom of the screen, it fills too much of the screen and you can't shrink it.

After some experimentation and practice here's some tips that may help you use it:

  • Use an extra-fine point (ink thickness) so that you can more easily read your own writing. The default point size just makes a smudge if your handwriting is small.
  • TIP can better guess your words if you have clear spacing between words and if you write on the horizontal guide with obvious descenders {e.g. g and y) and ascenders (e.g. d and h). After a while, you don't even have to cross your t's or dot your i's or even write every letter for the system to guess the right word.
  • After writing in TIP you can just tap your input field to enter your text instead of having to press the Insert button.
  • To cross out words, you should carefully draw a horizontal line through the middle of the entire word. If your stroke is drawn too quickly, TIP thinks that you are writing another letter and tries to guess what it is.
  • TIP's Writing Pad allows you to correct the guess for a word even if you are already writing another word. For example, if you started writing "XML lag are..." you can go back to cross the "t" and add an "s" in the second word to change it from "lag" to "tags".
  • If you want to enter special codes such as XML tags, use the Character Pad instead of the Writing Pad, and enter each character separately.

Some improvements to TIP (if any developers are reading this):

  • There should be a second horizontal guideline, like preschool writing exercise books to help TIP distinguish between capital and lowercase letters that have the same strokes, such as "x" and "X", and symbols such as "<" and "(".
  • It should be possible to make the TIP dialog smaller and semi-transparent so that you can see more of a document or input field. With all the eye-candy available in Vista, it's annoying that the user can't better configure this dialog.

This entry was mostly written using TIP and edited using the keyboard.