Last Updated 20/Aug/2009
Vista - Vista's Graphics Tablet Features
Iain Laskey shows how to make the most of Vista's built in Graphics Tablet support
Having recently reviewed Wacom's Bamboo One graphics tablet, it became apparant that Vista does a good job of hiding some useful tools away from the casual user. These allow handwriting recognition, handwritten notes, 'Pen Flicks' and screen grabs. However, most people won't have these tools installed so first lets fix that.
On all versions of Vista except Home Basic (sorry guys) open the Control Panel and run the "Programs and Features" applet and then click on "Turn Windows Features on or Off". If you prefer, you can also just click on Start/Search then type 'OptionalFeatures.exe' (without the single quotes). On the next screen, scroll down and ensure "Tablet PC Optional Components" is ticked. Click on OK. Vista will warn that it may take some minutes and this time it's not lying so give it a good while to finish - five to ten minutes. You'll need to reboot. Once done, you will have several new features.
Click on Start then 'All Programs' then 'Windows Journal'. This brings up an application that allows you to write and draw directly onto a lined journal pad. You can choose different thicknesses of pen and then add or erase items as desired. Furthermore, you can edit individual items to change the ink and other options. If your handwriting's up to it, you can also enable handwriting recognition. Even with my scrawl it had a good guess with only the case of some letters being wrong and an editing screen with suggestions sorted that out.
Other options include different 'paper' (grids, lines, blank etc.) and the ability to drop in text boxes. These allow you to type directly into the document if you want something a bit clearer to go with the drawings. It even has a configurable auto save in case you go off on a creative moment and forget to save your work in progress.
Tablet PC Input Panel
This one appears as a small panel which by default hides on the left hand side of your screen then pops out when you point to it. It allows handwritten input which is then converted to real text and entered into whatever the current active application is. It offers three modes of input. You can just start writing freeform, enter one character per box (as shown here) or display a keyboard from which you can tap out the letters. The Insert button then sends it to your application. As you can see, it decodes as you write with the 'e' about to be converted above.
If you prefer, it can be docked to the top or bottom but in this mode it takes up quite a bit of space. A better option is the default whereby it floats and can be moved about or hidden when not in use. It works well though and editing is easy via convenient popups and flicks with the pen.
Speaking of flicks...
This isn't actually part of the Tablet feature pack but is worth exploring if you've installed a graphics tablet. Flicks allow you to assign preset actions to small short 'flicks' of the pen. There is a training screen and configuration options in the control panel to get you started. Usefully, you can save groups of settings by name allowing you to create different flicks for different applications. Typical actions include flicking up or down to page through documents, much like on an iPhone, or deleting items. You can see the default actions here.
Flicks can be more useful than you'd expect and soon become second nature. Going back to a PC without a tablet and therefor flicks is surprisingly difficult once you're used to them.
The final tool and possibly the most useful is the Snipping Tool. This can be found in the Accessories folder. It allows you to draw around a section of screen - any shape or size you like. It then does a screen grab of the section you selected. You can use a highlighter to mark items of interest or add annotations or comments via a pen. You can save the result as a JPG, PNG, GIF or surprisingly, HTML. The Snipping tool also allows you to email the image directly without having to save it first.
The Snipping Tool also works quite well with a mouse so even people without a graphics tablet could do worse than install the Tablet options to get access to this gadget.
If you do a lot of screen grabs, this utility can be a great way of quickly getting them done. The 'any shape you like' method adds a bit of interest and pizazz to the finished image too.