Click here to close now.


Microsoft Cloud Authors: Jordan Sanders, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Keith Mayer, Jayaram Krishnaswamy

Related Topics: Microsoft Cloud

Microsoft Cloud: Article

Tablet-Enable Your Windows Application Without Changing the Code

A look at the Context Tagging Tool

Today, millions of Windows applications exist around the world. They are written with various development tools, with different development languages, and are based on different libraries. Let's suppose that you are responsible for one of these - and then along comes the Tablet PC. Your users say that your application would be great if it were adapted for the Tablet platform. You then do some research and find out there is a nice Tablet API, including managed support and controls that capture Ink. You tell your manager about the possibilities, but he clamps down. He points out that there is no budget and no time for these modifications this year. He might even question the business value of the Tablet platform. Your users are whining and IT management is not budging. How can you please the users without the significant cost of a code rewrite? Are there options beyond rewriting your application?

Levels of Ink-ness

Let's step back for a moment and clear up a misconception about supporting the Tablet PC platform. There are various levels of Ink-ness, i.e., the richness or degree of integration of Ink via the Tablet API and provided controls. (Warning: Ink-ness is a word that I made up and not an official Microsoft term.) There have been various conversations about Ink integration on the Internet and in books, but my viewpoint is that it typically comes down to the lifetime of Ink in an application. It is obvious that the most pen-enabled Tablet PC applications will have Ink controls, store Ink somewhere, and keep Ink as Ink. But can your existing application be considered pen-enabled even without knowing about Ink?

Thanks to the Tablet PC Input Panel (otherwise known as the TIP), your application will appear to interact with Ink even though it knows nothing about Ink. When the focus of the application is in a text input control for example, the TIP will appear, allow the user to write, convert it to text, and then insert into the text input control. So, the Ink-ignorant application will survive. Although most people will not consider this as being Ink-enabled, this is my first level of Ink-ness which I titled "Do Nothing," and basically means that we will depend on the TIP to recognize the user's handwriting as best as it can (see Table 1). Even though the TIP has an advanced recognition algorithm that is more than capable, the Ink-ness of this type of application is not impressive.

Most developers would then consider the next level of Ink-ness to be working with Tablet PC API and using the included Ink-enabled Windows controls. While this is broken down into my third and fourth levels, it is not the next level of Ink-ness in my definition. The second level is the place between doing nothing and working with the Tablet API. It is a place that most technical managers do not realize exists but it is perfect for the scenario presented in the beginning of this article. It is a way to help the TIP recognize your handwriting by giving it context hints in a declarative manner. Moreover, it does not require rewriting any code or doing redeployment. Want to Tablet-enable your application with minimal effort? Read on.


The TIP is a graphical control that interfaces to a high-quality recognition engine (called a recognizer in Tablet PC terms). The recognizer does an unbelievable feat by interpreting handwriting and converting it to the appropriate text. However, because human handwriting is varied, in a few cases it does not understand what the user is trying to write. But, the good news is that the accuracy can be greatly improved by informing the TIP of the "context" of the input. For example, the developer could tell the TIP that a particular field is a number, a date, a time, a zip code, or even a URL. The Tablet platform has a predefined list of these hints, called Common Input Scopes, which number around 50. It also supports custom context definitions, which we will discuss later.

One might not realize that Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 came with several applications that have context awareness for certain controls. The most demonstrated example is that of Internet Explorer's address bar. Another example is in Outlook 2003's "To:" textbox control. And more are on the way, from Microsoft and from other vendors as well.

There are three ways to communicate the context of a control to the TIP. If you're doing WIN32 programming, check out the SetInputScope API. If you're writing in .NET, then look at the InkEdit control that exposes a RecognizerContext property. Notice that these mechanisms require that the communication exists in the application code. The third way to communicate context is via a special file called a context manifest file. This non-programmatic option is a special XML file created with the Context Tagging Tool.

The Context Tagging Tool

The Context Tagging Tool provides an interesting way of setting context information for individual input controls in an application. Provided in the Tablet SDK v1.7 (download from the Tablet PC Developer Center), this Windows application is very easy to use. After selecting an application to "tag" (see Figure 1), a person simply picks each input control, assigns a context to it, and saves the selections. This also shows that you can see what applications on a machine include context manifest files.

One neat feature is that the tool fires up the selected application so that you can select the controls and then closes the application upon saving the selections. Another tool benefit is in the way that controls are selected from the running application. I simply drag an icon from the tool onto the interested control in my application and the tool gathers the required information (See Figure 2).

It is important to note that not all controls are tag-able. The selected control has to be uniquely identified. This uniqueness is created by the control's AccessbileName property, window class name, and a consistent Window ID. This also implies that the identification could be version specific. For most environments, these issues are not a problem but there are exceptions.

The output of saving the selections is a context manifest, an XML file that has a "CTM" extension (i.e., ExeName.EXE.CTM). Created in the application directory, the data is read at run time by the TIP and communicated to the recognition engine. (One can view the XML of the file, but it is much easier to use the tool than to edit the file.) Upon successful testing, the file then can be copied to another Tablet PC running the same application and the user will enjoy an improved Tablet PC experience.

Another interesting point is that you can create a new context manifest file or edit an existing manifest with the Context Tagging Tool. The tool informs the user of an existing manifest for the application (notice the "Context File" column in Figure 1). Furthermore, you can view and edit the manifest created by someone else. Also, as long as I have the executable, I can even create a manifest for someone else's application.

An interesting story here is that of Thong Nguyen, a software engineer in New Zealand who has written some free Tablet PC utilities (see the Resource section). Thong has been evaluating a browser called Maxthon that does not support the Tablet PC. Since he wanted the browser to work better on his Tablet PC, Thong created his own context manifest and distributed it to the community. The lesson here is that any Windows application that includes someone else's is a candidate for tagging. There are many stories like this going around the Internet.

Input Scopes

As mentioned earlier, there are approximately 50 predefined context hints known as Common Input Scopes. These cover a wide variety of input contexts and are listed in the Tagging Tool Help. Figure 3 shows a control that has multiple Common Input Scopes selected. If the list is not enough, the Tablet PC team has provided Custom Input Scopes via Phrase Lists and Regular Expressions.

Phrase Lists are a way to limit or extend the list of words in a specific context. For example, maybe I have a baseball scoring application that has a textbox control for entering the batting outcome. Using the Manage Phrase Lists tab (see Figure 4), I could build a named list of possible traditional outcomes like K, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, E1, etc. Then later, when picking a control under the Tag Controls tab, I could assign that named list as a context for the selected control. Optionally, the Coerce to Input Scope definition checkbox will limit the recognition possibilities to the assigned Phrase List.

Using the Manage Regular Expressions tab, I am able to create named contexts using a Regular Expression syntax. This feature would allow for customized entries that can optionally include the re-use of Common Input Scopes (see image 5). The Tagging Tool Help has an informative section on this topic that includes samples. There are a few extra rules on the syntax, so be sure to refer to the related Help topic.


After creating the context manifest, the next step is to get this to your clients. The final destination is in the application runtime folder, but the challenge is how to communicate this to your clients, distribute the file, and have it land in the appropriate folder. Therefore, you could create an installation program, simply promote this new feature via e-mail, including attaching the CTM, promote and distribute this from a known Web site, and then let the user copy the file, or use your favorite enterprise file distribution mechanism such as SMS. The main issue here is to get the file to your users and into the application directory.

Tagging Resources

Obviously, this is an underutilized topic and you don't find a lot of information resources explaining how to do this. However, along with the Tagging Tool Help, there are a few key places to check out in order to get the best results with tagging. I recommend surfing over to the Tablet PC Development Center and checking out Frank Gocinski's Tablet 101 column, which includes an article titled "Adding Context Awareness to Improve Handwriting Recognition." Furthermore, be sure to check out Leszynski Group's Web site. Because they are one of the most active Tablet PC partners, these guys have been around the block in tagging engagements and thus their "Tagging Tips & Tricks" article is a must read. (See the Resource section below for the URLs.)


As I write this, there are not a lot of applications that take advantage of context manifests. That story is changing in 2005. For example, in December of 2004, Microsoft released an Office 2003 Tablet PC Update, titled Improved Ink Recognition update. Even though it came in an install package, the only files added to the desktop are six context manifest files - specifically for Excel, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word. This is a perfect example of when to use the Context Tagging Tool. Obviously, Microsoft wanted to have a light impact on existing applications that have a large deployment base. These files also provide examples of Custom Input Scopes for us to learn from.

So, if you're looking to have your Windows application Tablet-enabled without modifying the code or dealing with a redeployment of binaries, the Context Tagging Tool is the way to go. You wouldn't end up with a rich application like one of the Tablet PC Power Toys (which includes my favorite Crossword Puzzle application), but you would improve the Tablet experience for your users with only a small effort. Then you can always decide later to implement a more significant modification. Increasing your Ink-ness is always cool!


  • Tablet PC Developer Center:
  • Adding Context Awareness to Improve Handwriting Recognition, by Frank Gocinski: Tablet 101 Column, Tablet PC Developer Center
  • Tagging Tips & Tricks, Leszynski Group's Tablet Articles site:
  • Thong Nguyen's Web site:
  • Maxthon Browser:
  • More Stories By Jon Box

    Jon Box is an Architect Evangelist in Developer & Platform Evangelism with the Microsoft Corporation. He coauthored Building Solutions with the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework, published by Addison-Wesley, and blogs at

    Comments (0)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

    @ThingsExpo Stories
    The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
    Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
    With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound cha...
    DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
    As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
    In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
    In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
    We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
    The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
    Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
    With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
    Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
    Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
    Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
    The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
    The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
    Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
    Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
    PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.
    Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...