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Touching Windows 7

CNET News' Ina Fried gets a hands-on (literally) with the new features of Windows 7, including its multitouch gestures.

LOS ANGELES--In addition to getting to spend a few minutes playing around with Windows 7's new desktop, I had a chance to play around with its multitouch gestures.

The brief look came on a machine running a later build than the one Microsoft handed out to developers last week. More similar to the version that was shown onstage Tuesday, the machine I used had the new desktop featuring the Aero Peek and other features.

I thought it might help to show some of the features in a short video. (It was me holding a Flip video camera, so apologies for the jitters and less-than-ideal sound.)

Along with the gestures themselves, Microsoft has tweaked the desktop to support touch, doing things like spreading out menu lists to make the operating system easier to navigate with just a finger.

To scroll through a Word document, for example, users can run their finger anywhere in the Word window (not just in a narrow scroll bar). It has also added some visual cues, such as making a window bounce when one has reached the end or beginning of a document. That helps, because it can be a little hard at first to figure out which way to flick to head down a window.

The key question is going to be how much software developers take advantage of touch and how many computer makers include the necessary hardware in their laptops and displays.

In general, Microsoft has aimed with Windows 7 to provide features that don't require third-party support to light up. But touch is an exception. If you don't have a machine that supports touch, you get none of the benefit.

Many programs will have support for basic gestures, such as scrolling, but what will also be interesting is seeing programs that truly take advantage of the technology.

Microsoft's approach with Windows 7 also highlights a key difference with Apple. The Mac maker has focused, at least thus far, on expanding the touch abilities of the laptop trackpad. Microsoft, meanwhile, seems aimed at touch on the screen itself--though trackpad makers such as Synaptics have added support for gestures that XP and even Vista laptops can take advantage of if their makers' wish.

One Windows PC maker, Hewlett-Packard, has been branching out on its own, adding its own line of touch-screen computers ahead of Windows 7. It has updated its TouchSmart PC a couple of times and is also targeting the technology for laptops. Last week, HP also opened up its TouchSmart interface to developers.

Click here for more news on Windows 7.