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Windows 7 catching developers' eyes

Software makers are taking advantage of operating system's multitouch, while Microsoft's hardware unit is tailoring keyboards and mice to take advantage of new features.

While we've heard a lot about Windows 7, we haven't heard too much about the software and hardware that will take advantage of the new operating system.

That's starting to change.

This week, touch-screen maker N-trig is showing off a variety of third-party software programs that take advantage of the multitouch features of Windows 7. Meanwhile, Microsoft's hardware unit said it is also building support for Windows 7's new taskbar and thumbnail previews into its line of keyboards and mice.

Microsoft said beta versions of the drivers for its products are available now, with final versions set for release at the end of next month.

On the software front, N-trig is showing off a number of multitouch Windows 7 applications at a display conference in San Antonio, Texas, this week. Microsoft has also announced its own package of free touch programs for Windows 7, including three casual games and three programs ported over from Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer.

"There's lots of stuff going on," N-trig Vice President Lenny Engelhardt said in a telephone interview. Among the applications N-trig is showing is a photo browser from FingerTapps and a multitouch 3D design program from SpaceClaim. Corel also said it will have multitouch-enabled programs later this year, but didn't give specifics.

"Windows 7 and Windows Touch are giving Corel's software designers an incredible opportunity to enhance how consumers experience creative software," executive vice president Joe Roberts said in a statement.

Getting compelling software is key to transforming multitouch from a curiosity into something that consumers are willing to pay for. A touch screen adds on the order of $100 or more to the cost of a system, depending on screen size.

"In this current economic climate, to get people to buy new hardware is going to take some real nice, compelling applications," Engelhardt said.

HP and Dell have started shipping multitouch machines ahead of Windows 7, but Engelhardt said he expects all the major hardware and software makers to support touch at some level once the new operating system hits the market in October.

"None of these guys wants to be left out," Engelhardt said.

Although touch will remain a small part of the total PC market, Engelhardt said he sees it expanding from where it is today, with a few desktop models as well as a handful of convertible tablet laptops.

"A lot of those notebooks are going to be larger than what you have seen," he said. "There will be computers with 14- and 17-inch screens."

Multitouch will also reach the Netbook sector, though that market is harder to predict, he said.

Engelhardt said that multitouch has the opportunity to do the same thing for Windows PCs that the iPhone did for mobile phones--take a task that everyone was already doing and make it fun.

A video from N-trig shows some other possibilities for where touch can go in Windows 7. In the video (embedded below), N-trig shows a number of gaming scenarios, including the ability to play Guitar Hero using several fingers touching the screen. Although the makers of Guitar Hero haven't announced such plans, Engelhardt said the option is entirely technically feasible, with his engineering team having created a working demo.

Thus far, Engelhardt said, the consumer area appears to be ahead of the enterprise software market, but over time he expects more touch-enabled business applications as well.

For its part, Microsoft said it is happy with the level of touch support it is seeing from developers.

"We are pleased to see how quickly our partners are developing multitouch applications on Windows 7," principal group program manager Ian LeGrow said in a statement.