Microsoft plans to give users of the next version of its Windows operating system touch screen controls as one option for controlling the software, its top executives said on Tuesday.
Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer showed off new Windows features based on software it calls "multi-touch" that will be part of Windows 7, the next version of Windows, which Ballmer said was due out in late 2009.
The ability to use touch to give users fingertip control of their screens could help revolutionize how computer desktops and mobile phones are controlled and would be an alternative to existing mice, keyboard and pen-based user controls.
During a joint interview that kicked off the Wall Street Journal's three-day D: All Things Digital conference, an annual gathering of the computer industry elite taking place north of San Diego, Ballmer said touch screen controls was one example of how Microsoft would improve on existing Windows software.
Microsoft is seeking to one-up Apple, which made touch-screen software central to the success of its iPhone mobile device, which combines computer, phone and Web features and has sold around 6 million units in its first 11 months.
After more than a decade of slow development, Gates said new ways of interacting with computers other than keyboards and mice have matured to the point where they are ready to go mainstream.
"We are at an interesting juncture where almost all of the interaction is with the computer and mouse, today, and, over the years to come, the role of speech, vision, ink, all of those will become huge," Gates said.
He was referring to technologies that gives users the ability to control computers with voice commands, detect and sort different kinds of images and use electronic ink instead of typing for computer input.