Thursday, March 13, 2014

Try DBDOC on a Tablet: It Just Works!

Recently we brought a Surface Pro tablet into our office, and we've been pleasantly discovering that for the most part, DBDOC Just Works! Read on for more details.
Lets look at Hyperview, which is the most likely of the DBDOC programs to be used with a tablet.

First up, we have an option in Hyperview that happens to have prepared us for touchscreens entirely unintentionally. If you go into "Options..." you'll see in View the checkbox for "Large icon toolbar", which scales up the main buttons.


Who knew we were preparing for touchscreens all this time? It's nice to be forward-thinking by accident!

Most navigation works as you'd expect. Tap on the screen for left-click; long-press for a right-click, for example to call up a context menu on a block; scroll by flicking within a pane or by pressing down on a scrollbar and moving your finger. It can be a bit inconsistent sometimes, and we're investigating an issue where kinetic scrolling in the index pane stops working on some M14s, but in general it's quite fine with fingers or a stylus.

Selecting an area to zoom into can be a bit tricky with the touchscreen, although I've found it to be fairly reliable if I start first with a distinctly horizontal motion, then start moving my finger vertically as well. Otherwise, Windows sometimes interprets the motion as an attempt to drag the viewspace. With the stylus that comes with the Surface Pro, however, box selection seems to work without hassle.

If you're running Windows 8.1 on a relatively high-DPI device like the Surface Pro or a new high-end laptop, you may notice the fonts are a bit blurry. This is because Windows 8.1 by default scales up the UI element sizes when using a dense display, which is handy for keeping things readable (and for making it easier to touch interactive elements), but isn't done in a way that's terribly kind to applications built on the old standard Windows assumption of 96dpi. Right now, most third-party applications for Windows react in one of two ways: either upscaling with blurry fonts and other elements, or ignoring the scaling entirely. You can see this contrast with the current versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox for Windows, where the former looks the same as DBDOC does and the latter stays crisp but small in defiance of Windows' scaling settings.

If you haven't noticed this (in which case, sorry for pointing it out!) you can leave it as-is, but if you're looking to disable scaling globally, you can find the option in "Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Display". You can also disable in on a per-application basis by right-clicking on a shortcut or an EXE, going into its properties, and choosing "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings" from the Compatibility tab.


We're investigating and evaluating how we might hook DBDOC into the scaling functions of contemporary Windows, which will not only help with tablets like the Surface Pro, but also high-resolution desktop and laptop displays which are just now starting to edge into mainstream production; my own laptop has a resolution of 2560x1700 on a mere 13" screen!

Well, that's the rote details of the current state of running Hyperview on Windows 8/8.1 tablet, but what's the actual use? Well, we've imagined that it could be quite helpful carrying around a plant, looking at live data (if you're connecting in through a local network or VPN) or even just to be able to easily browse your graphics and CAD sheets while standing in front of the actual machinery they represent. You could use CIUMon Relay to pass on data from a running CIUMon instance, or even hook up a USB-to-serial adapter to your tablet and plug in directly to a CIU with your tablet. And the guts of Microsoft's Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 are fairly hefty, so you could even run BuildPlus to generate M14s if need be.

We're just getting started on touchscreen and tablet support, so let us know what you would find useful and in what scenarios you can see using DBDOC on a tablet!