Click here to close now.

Welcome!

.NET Authors: Kevin Benedict, Brian Vandegrift, Greg O'Connor, Jayaram Krishnaswamy, Adine Deford

Related Topics: .NET

.NET: 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.

Context

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.

Deployment

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.)

Conclusion

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!

Resources

  • Tablet PC Developer Center: http://msdn.microsoft.com/tabletpc
  • 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: www.leszynski.com/tabletpc/tpcArticles.htm
  • Thong Nguyen's Web site: www.veridicus.com/tummy/
  • Maxthon Browser: www.maxthon.com
  • 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 http://blogs.msdn.com/jonbox/default.aspx.

    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
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Litmus Automation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Litmus Automation’s vision is to provide a solution for companies that are in a rush to embrace the disruptive Internet of Things technology and leverage it for real business challenges. Litmus Automation simplifies the complexity of connected devices applications with Loop, a secure and scalable cloud platform.
    While not quite mainstream yet, WebRTC is starting to gain ground with Carriers, Enterprises and Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) alike. WebRTC makes it easy for developers to add audio and video communications into their applications by using Web browsers as their platform. But like any market, every customer engagement has unique requirements, as well as constraints. And of course, one size does not fit all. In her session at WebRTC Summit, Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President, Head of Cloud and Mobile Strategy at GENBAND, will explore what is needed to take a real time communications ...
    As Marc Andreessen says software is eating the world. Everything is rapidly moving toward being software-defined – from our phones and cars through our washing machines to the datacenter. However, there are larger challenges when implementing software defined on a larger scale - when building software defined infrastructure. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Boyan Ivanov, CEO of StorPool, will provide some practical insights on what, how and why when implementing "software-defined" in the datacenter.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Solgenia will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Solgenia is the global market leader in Cloud Collaboration and Cloud Infrastructure software solutions. Designed to “Bridge the Gap” between Personal and Professional Social, Mobile and Cloud user experiences, our solutions help large and medium-sized organizations dr...
    The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
    Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, will discuss how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust I...
    The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
    After making a doctor’s appointment via your mobile device, you receive a calendar invite. The day of your appointment, you get a reminder with the doctor’s location and contact information. As you enter the doctor’s exam room, the medical team is equipped with the latest tablet containing your medical history – he or she makes real time updates to your medical file. At the end of your visit, you receive an electronic prescription to your preferred pharmacy and can schedule your next appointment.
    Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
    SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
    Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
    The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
    SOA Software has changed its name to Akana. With roots in Web Services and SOA Governance, Akana has established itself as a leader in API Management and is expanding into cloud integration as an alternative to the traditional heavyweight enterprise service bus (ESB). The company recently announced that it achieved more than 90% year-over-year growth. As Akana, the company now addresses the evolution and diversification of SOA, unifying security, management, and DevOps across SOA, APIs, microservices, and more.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
    The list of ‘new paradigm’ technologies that now surrounds us appears to be at an all time high. From cloud computing and Big Data analytics to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT), today we have to deal with what the industry likes to call ‘paradigm shifts’ at every level of IT. This is disruption; of course, we understand that – change is almost always disruptive.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that SafeLogic has been named “Bag Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SafeLogic provides security products for applications in mobile and server/appliance environments. SafeLogic’s flagship product CryptoComply is a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic engine designed to secure data on servers, workstations, appliances, mobile devices, and in the Cloud.
    GENBAND has announced that SageNet is leveraging the Nuvia platform to deliver Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to its large base of retail and enterprise customers. Nuvia’s cloud-based solution provides SageNet’s customers with a full suite of business communications and collaboration tools. Two large national SageNet retail customers have recently signed up to deploy the Nuvia platform and the company will continue to sell the service to new and existing customers. Nuvia’s capabilities include HD voice, video, multimedia messaging, mobility, conferencing, Web collaboration, deskt...
    SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cisco makes amazing things happen by connecting the unconnected. Cisco has shaped the future of the Internet by becoming the worldwide leader in transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborate. Cisco and our partners are building the platform for the Internet of Everything by connecting the...
    Temasys has announced senior management additions to its team. Joining are David Holloway as Vice President of Commercial and Nadine Yap as Vice President of Product. Over the past 12 months Temasys has doubled in size as it adds new customers and expands the development of its Skylink platform. Skylink leads the charge to move WebRTC, traditionally seen as a desktop, browser based technology, to become a ubiquitous web communications technology on web and mobile, as well as Internet of Things compatible devices.