Windows 10 (finally) sets conventions for multiple-finger gestures

Microsoft demos several new trackpad gestures with interesting implications for Windows -- a long overdue effort that Apple achieved years ago

Windows 8 touchpad
Credit: IntelFreePress via Flickr

Windows 10 luminary Joe Belfiore, speaking at TechEd Europe yesterday, demonstrated two Windows 10 features that appear in build 9865, but not in build 9860, the one you're likely using. One of the features -- snapping to the inner edge of two side-by-side monitors -- hardly rates a "meh." The other feature, adoption of several three-finger trackpad gestures, has some interesting implications for the future of Windows.

Why the "meh"? Watch Belfiore's demo closely (starting around 23:00 in the keynote recording), and you'll see how snapping to that inner edge with a mouse requires a very precise "drop" along the edge of the monitor. Unlike snapping on a single monitor, where you slap the windows around and they magically dock themselves, snapping on an inner edge requires a certain degree of care and patience.

That isn't an indictment of the feature. It's the nature of the beast -- Windows 10 has to figure out when you're snapping and when you're simply moving.

My guess is that most power users -- to use Belfiore's term -- will try the inner snapping with a mouse a few times, then figure out the exercise is much easier and faster using the Windows + direction key shortcut. Even if your hand is on the mouse, unless your fine motor coordination is much better than mine, you're likely to find the keys work a whole lot better.

The three-finger gestures Belfiore demoed (about 26:00 in the keynote) are a completely different kettle of fish. Slide three fingers down to minimize all windows, up to restore all windows, and up again to the Task view. Swipe three to the left or right to switch between running apps.

You can join in the debate about whether Microsoft, er, swiped the idea from OS X, but that's angels dancing on the head of a pin. The real story is that Microsoft is finally setting some conventions for multiple-finger gestures, a move that's long overdue.

Right now, if you use a Synaptics trackpad and driver on Windows 8, the Synaptics Gesture Suite implements fast scrolling. Three fingers with a Synaptics driver while watching a video gives you Play, Pause, Stop, Back, and Next.

But if you're using a Logitech touchpad and Windows 8 (PDF), three fingers up goes to the Metro Start screen, while three fingers down moves to the desktop; three fingers left or right move backward or forward (with details varying by application). In Windows 7, the behavior's completely different.

Microsoft's approach to multiple-finger gestures on the Surface covers is a garbled mess: Some trackpads work one way, others work a different way. Other manufacturers handle multiple-finger gestures differently as well.

This new effort is finally going to bring some standards to the gesture arena in Windows 10. It's a long overdue effort  -- and one that Apple conquered years ago.

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