Microsoft Launches Tablet PC Software

Hardware vendors ready pen-based devices; early adopters satisfied

After months of prelaunch publicity, Microsoft Corp. last week unveiled its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, which lets notebook users work with a digital pen instead of a keyboard.

Nearly two dozen hardware vendors, including Acer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., NEC Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., are set to release Tablet PC devices starting as early as this week.

Microsoft officials claimed that the advent of the Tablet PC represents an evolution of the corporate notebook PC, and some early users said they think the technology can live up to the hype vendors are generating.

David Methot, contracts manager at Bechtel National Inc., said the Richland, Wash.-based engineering firm has been using Taipei, Taiwan-based Acer's TravelMate 100 to reduce the amount of time it takes to finalize contracts with customers.

Methot said that even though Bechtel has a Web-based contract management system, contract closeout administrators often ran into delays because they had to track him down to get his signature on hard-copy documents. But with the Tablet PC, the administrators can save hours or even days by e-mailing Methot the documents, which he signs electronically and then sends back to them.

Workers are also using the devices to take handwritten notes during meetings, saving the time it would take them to transcribe notes written on paper into their PCs, he said.

Tablet PC users can write directly on a specialized LCD screen with a digital pen or, in some cases, input information using a traditional keyboard and mouse. Microsoft also included a program called Microsoft Windows Journal, which allows handwritten notes to be stored as graphics called digital ink. In addition, the software can convert handwritten notes into ASCII text.

The Tablet PC devices, which are expected to cost about $2,000, are designed for users who aren't typically tethered to their desks, such as insurance adjusters and field sales and service workers.

The underlying use of Windows XP paves the way for the new technology to fit into corporate IT infrastructures and makes it possible for developers to use existing tools to build Tablet PC applications, said Kelly Berschauer, a product manager at Microsoft.

Henry King, CIO at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, said building designers at the New York-based architectural firm use design-creation and communication software developed by Autodesk Inc. on HP's Compaq TC 1000 tablet device.

King said the combination of the Tablet PC and San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk's application lets users sketch out design concepts, mark up drawings and instantly send changes to the entire design team from remote locations.

Selling users on the Tablet PC technology won't be a short-term slam-dunk for Microsoft and its hardware partners, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. in New York and a Computerworld columnist. But, he added, "five years from now, it's likely that tablet functionality will become part of mainstream computing, and we won't view it as anything special or different."


Tablet PC

The software includes the full capabilities of Windows XP Professional Edition.

Users can write directly on an LCD screen using a digital pen.

Handwritten notes can be saved in longhand or converted into ASCII text.

Supported languages include English, German, Japanese, Korean and Chinese (both traditional and simplified).

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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