Now that Windows Ink is finally available in an Insider build of Windows 10, it’s possible to check out whether this new functionality will transform the way we use a pen with Windows. So here’s a quick tour.
As you may know, Microsoft today released Windows 10 Insider build 14328 for PCs, adding numerous new Anniversary update features to the product for the first time. Key among these, of course, is Windows Ink.
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The very concept of Windows Ink was a bit confusing to me at first, as Microsoft had added inking capabilities to Windows XP Tablet PC Edition way back in 2002, and digital ink has been a core feature of Windows generally since Vista. But I think I see what they’re trying to accomplish now. While individual PCs, including Microsoft’s own Surface devices, have shipped with active pens for years, there’s been no centralized, general pen user experience in Windows, at least beyond the basic mouse replacement stuff.
So with Windows Ink, Windows 10 is picking up a lot of useful and discoverable pen functionality. It provides, in the Windows Ink Workspace, a “Start” experience of sorts, a place to go to begin your ink-enabled work. And it spreads ink capabilities more intelligently throughout the system, to apps that are bundled with Windows 10—like Sticky Notes and some new apps—and to apps that are not, like the Office Mobile apps.
My first stop, however, was the Settings app, as I wanted to see how the Pen settings had changed. Two things of note here: First, Microsoft has added an icon next to each entry in Settings, which I find attractive. And as expected, Pen settings has been dramatically expanded with a lot of new settings, including many related to the Windows Ink Workspace.
I made one change, setting the pen button single-click to launch Windows Ink Workspace. That way, when I pick up the pen, I can simply jump right into that environment.
As promised, Windows Ink Workspace is a front-end to virtually all of the pen-related functionality that Microsoft is adding to Windows 10. You can launch it using the pen shortcut I configured earlier, or you can simply click (or, with the pen, press) the new Pen icon in the system tray. Windows Ink Workspace is presented as a flyover window, similar to those used by the Power and Networking icons, and not a pane like Action Center.
So, what’s in there? As you can see, Windows Ink Workspace collects your ink-based apps in one place, in my case Sticky Notes, Sketchpad, and Screen Sketch, plus other recently-used apps—Photos, Edge, OneNote Mobile, Maps, and so on—that are pen enabled. You can launch all of these apps from Start or the taskbar, of course, but collecting them together in a single place makes tons of sense.
Tip: If you don’t have a PC with an active pen, you can still enable and use the Windows Ink Workspace. Just right-click the taskbar and choose “Show Windows Ink Workspace” from the pop-up menu that appears.
Windows has had Sticky Notes for years, but with the Anniversary update, Windows 10 is picking up some new functionality. That is, you can run Sticky Notes as before, and a small yellow note will appear on screen. But if you run it from the Windows Ink Workspace, they launch in a new full-screen experience that grays out everything else so you can focus on the task at hand.
Microsoft notes that this feature isn’t fully-baked yet. In the future, you will be able to to create Cortana reminders from your notes that sync across your devices, write a phone number that can be tapped for calling, create checklists, and much more.
As its name suggests, Sketchpad is of course a digital sketchpad, and it provides a number of virtual pen tips, colors, highlighters, and of course that infamous on-screen ruler that delighted everyone at Build.
“We were inspired by how natural and fluid it feels to sketch out ideas on a blank piece of paper to really turn your thoughts into action and ideas into reality,” Microsoft says of Sketchpad. “Sketchpad delivers this with a simple blank canvas where you can quickly and easily draw an idea, doodle, create, and solve problems. You can use your hands more naturally, too – you can rest your palm down when writing and intuitively use your other hand to bring up a digital ruler for writing straight lines just like on paper. You can then easily save and share your ideas when done, too!”
Screen Sketch is interesting: This one lets you capture a screenshot and then sketch right on top of it using your pen (but not, curiously, your finger). Once you’re done, you can save the sketch, share it, or copy it to the clipboard.
There’s not a lot of information about this yet, but various in-box apps are being updated to support Windows Ink as well. Tooling around Maps and Photos, however, I didn’t see any obvious Ink functionality, but I’ll keep looking. In the meantime, let me know if you discover any neat new Ink features. I think this is an area that will be expanded pretty dramatically in Windows 10 going forward.