Microsoft Still Committed to Tablet PC

By Eric Grevstad | Posted November 20, 2003

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates celebrated the first birthday of the company's Tablet PC push by announcing the second version of its pen-centric operating system, scheduled to ship sometime in the first half of 2004. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2004 will be a free upgrade for existing customers and come preinstalled on new Tablet PCs. While Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is shipping now, Tablet PC Edition 2004 isn't due until next spring.

In his keynote address at the annual Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, Gates said that 40 companies worldwide are now designing and manufacturing Tablet PCs (although Bill Mitchell, vice president of the software giant's Tablet PC and Smart Personal Objects Technology group, says only 18 models are now shipping), and that more than 100 are developing software that takes advantage of the special portables' pen input and screen digitizer.

The upgraded software aims to enhance what Microsoft calls the "ink-to-text" experience throughout the operating system and in any Windows application, making the pen a mainstream input device on par with the keyboard and mouse. A new Tablet PC Input Panel makes inserting text easier, with more accurate handwriting and case recognition. Developers and users can add "rules" for how handwriting should be recognized in different text fields, such as e-mail addresses versus browser URLs.

The new Microsoft Office 2003 is optimized for Tablet PCs, with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint letting users annotate documents with ink virtually anywhere and the new OneNote program offering much more note-taking, -editing, and -organizing functionality — mixing ink with structured text, Web content, and even voice notes — than the simple Journal inking utility that comes with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Sending handwritten e-mail in Outlook 2003 is easier and more convenient, with "most recently used" lists to pick e-mail recipients quickly.

Behind the scenes, Microsoft has added new capabilities for Tablet PC application developers, including the option to integrate pen and ink in Web-based business solutions. The market for Tablet PC software is still chained to the category's relatively modest hardware sales, but the pioneers of a year ago report growing success.

Alias Systems says it's shipped 100,000 copies of its $179 Alias SketchBook Pro drawing program, and FranklinCovey recently announced version 3.0 of its $130 TabletPlanner, which adopts the time-management and effectiveness strategies of the company's paper planners and seminars to the Tablet PC. The new version offers seamless synchronization of Outlook tasks and appointments, new PowerNotes technology to integrate note-taking and the planning environment, drag-and-drop task ordering and prioritization, and full support for Office 2003 and Exchange 2003.

Adapted from WinPlanet.com.

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