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Microsoft's new Windows Ink makes stylus input way more useful

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When I reviewed Microsoft's Surface Book last year, I was struck by how badly Windows 10 handled pen support. Windows has supported styluses since the days of tablet edition for Windows XP, but Microsoft hasn't really invested heavily in building ink into every part of Windows. Annotating screenshots, emails, and documents is cumbersome in Windows 10, but the upcoming Anniversary Update will start to change that.

Windows Ink is the new name for Microsoft's pen support, and it includes a commitment to let developers easily build the support into their apps. That will help with future apps, but Microsoft is also creating its own Ink Workspace in Windows 10 to serve as a centerpiece for pen-enabled devices. I got a chance to play with Windows Ink at Microsoft's Build 2016 conference this week, and it appears to be an encouraging step in the right direction.


In current test versions of Windows 10, the new Ink Workspace includes sticky notes, a sketchpad, and screen sketch. There's also a recent list of pen-enabled apps, and suggested apps from the Store. It all looks fairly basic, but the sketchpad and tools are actually fairly useful for basic tasks. Microsoft showed off its new ruler, and it's an impressive addition in reality. You can manipulate where it sits in sketches or screenshots, and use it to draw straight lines and shapes. As it's part of Windows 10, all apps will be able to take advantage of the ruler.

Microsoft is also changing the way pen buttons work in Windows 10. Usually you'd use a separate app to control the Surface pen buttons, but now it's built directly into the settings. You can do things like disable the cursor, ignore touch input when the pen is used, turn off visual effects, and customize what app launches when you click or double-click on the top of a Surface Pen. This also applies to pens from a variety of manufacturers, as it's all part of Windows now.

Just the start, but a lot more features coming

Elsewhere, there's still a lot more for Microsoft to do. A spokesperson revealed to me that an upcoming Office Mobile update will bring the ability to leave comments with ink, and better use of the pen to delete and manipulate text in Word and other Office apps. Microsoft is bringing all of its Windows Ink features to Windows 10 in the summer, but if you're a Windows Insider you'll be able to test them out in the coming weeks.