Adding Microsoft Windows 8 multi-touch to a desktop or notebook

Microsoft Windows 8 Touch isn't just for tablet computers. Our expert discusses how the user interface can be added to desktops and notebooks.

As general availability of Microsoft Windows 8 approaches, even IT professionals who are in no rush to migrate to the new operating system should be aware of its capabilities. It's possible to grant users the multi-touch experience on (mostly) existing hardware. Microsoft has specified requirements for hardware to earn the Windows 8 Touch logo.

In my previous tip, I provided a basic primer on the touch interface in Microsoft Windows 8 and ways to circumvent that user interface if desired. To gain access to a multi-touch experience on an existing system, you'd need to add a touchscreen, replace an existing non-touch display with a touchscreen or add a multi-touch pointing device (or device driver).

Adding or replacing a screen makes more sense for desktop systems, in which the screen and system are not always mechanically coupled as they invariably are on notebooks. But this can be an expensive option: An 18.5-in. 3M Multitouch M1866PW (1366x768 resolution) still costs more than $1,100, while its 22-in. and 24-in. cousins cost $300 and $550 more, respectively. Displays bearing the  Windows 8 Touch logo remain pricey, but those costs should come down later this year or early next as more vendors start competing for the Windows 8 Touch logo display market.

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The other options for adding touch to the Windows 8 experience require a touch-enabled mouse or touchpad. For desktop systems, Microsoft offers a couple of very interesting options for under $100. Both the Microsoft Touch Mouse (manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP): $80, street: $65) and the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse (MSRP: $70, street $70) support all of the fundamental Windows 8 gestures.

Microsoft's mice will also work with gesture definitions supplied as a standard part of writing Metro-style apps for the Windows 8 environment. As an added bonus, these devices behave like "regular mice" for users operating programs on the Windows 8 desktop.

If IT admins update the drivers of existing touchpads and verify that underlying hardware supports multi-touch, which many devices do, adding multi-touch to an existing laptop or notebook PC should be easy and straightforward.

Users must learn to place only one finger on the touchpad because multiple fingers might inadvertently trigger gestures, even when one of them is stationary. I was able to practice gestures on the touchpads for every notebook on which I tried Windows 8, including models from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and Lenovo. I'm guessing that most users who want to upgrade notebooks from Windows 7 or Vista to Windows 8 won't have to purchase an external mouse to gain gesture/multi-touch support. Desktop owners surely will, unless they're already using an external touchpad, though that's not a very common peripheral for most desktops nowadays.

But where there's a will, there are multiple ways to obtain a true or "near-touch" experience with Windows 8, depending on whether or not it makes sense to bring a touchscreen into your computing mix. At present, only Planar and 3M have announced or released standalone touchscreens that meet Windows 8 logo requirements. I expect many other vendors to follow suit in the next two months.

Intel announced a Windows 8 tablet event, where ASUS, Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and others were in attendance, so there should also be a large crop of ultrabooks, notebooks, tablets and all-in-ones that meet the Windows 8 Touch logo requirements available by the time of general availability for Microsoft Windows 8.

This was first published in October 2012

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