Work Smarter With Vista's New Productivity Tools

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The Mighty Stylus

You don't need a fancy tablet PC to use many of the pen and tablet features built into all versions of Vista except Home Basic. Vista activates them automatically when you install a touch screen or a writing tablet such as those from Wacom. A pen stylus is great for drawing and photo retouching, as well as for annotating and signing documents in supporting apps.

Take notes: Vista's improved Tablet PC Input Panel lets you work in longhand mode (called the Writing Pad) or scratch out one letter at a time in boxes (Character Pad). You can also click keys in the On-Screen Keyboard. The tool learns your handwriting idiosyncrasies over time, but I was amazed at how accurately it read my terrifyingly bad handwriting right out of the box.

Start a sticky note: Choose Start, All Programs, Sticky Notes for a pen-friendly version of Windows' note-taker. Unlike the Tablet PC Input Panel, Sticky Notes leaves your notes in handwriting form. It also recognizes the scratch-out feature for deleting text, fortunately: Click Tools, Options, and make sure 'Enable Scratch-out Gesture' is checked.

Vista adds check boxes to selectable items in Explorer whenever a pen tablet is attached to your PC.
Vista adds check boxes to selectable items in Explorer whenever a pen tablet is attached to your PC.
Check and go in Explorer: Having a pen product installed on your PC adds check boxes to Windows Explorer, which makes selecting multiple files and folders as easy as tapping your pen.

Select or scroll in IE: With pen features enabled, Internet Explorer adds a Panning hand button to its toolbar. Tap the button with your pen and then drag in the browser to make the page scroll. Tap it again to turn off pen scrolling so that dragging selects text.

Use body language: If switching to a different tool each time you want to scroll or navigate is too much work, try Vista's pen gestures, or "Flicks." Click Start, Settings, Control Panel (or just Start, Control Panel), Pen and Input Devices (Hardware and Sound, Pen and Input Devices in Categories View). Choose the Flicks tab, and use the controls to set or customize the gestures you'll use. Select the Practice using flicks link at the bottom to open a practice screen.

While you're in this dialog box, check out the Pen Options tab for more gestures (such as moves for double-clicking and right-clicking). For some practice, select an option and click Settings.

What's that you say? You need still more practice? You'll find additional tutorials and customization features by clicking Start, All Programs, Tablet PC and choosing one of the four options.

Play ball: Time for a break? Choose Start, All Programs, Games, InkBall to try your "hand" at a stylus-friendly game.

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