First impressions of Microsoft's Tablet PC vision

We've seen it, tested it, played around with it and now it's time to do some work...

We've seen it, tested it, played around with it and now it's time to do some work... was yesterday privy to a demonstration of Microsoft's Tablet PC ahead of its official launch on 7 November. The Tablet is Microsoft's hybrid laptop/PDA that's supposed to combine the full power of the Windows environment with the nifty ability to let you input text using a Palm-style stylus. It can even recognise doctors' hand-writing and turn it into editable text. Or so we're told... At first glance the unit itself looks like a normal laptop. The one we were shown was an Acer machine running Windows XP Tablet Edition. This is the Convertible model, as opposed to the Slate, which is the 'pure' Tablet - no keyboard, just a square screen and button-laden surround. The Slate is the thinnest and lightest, but is also the one which cautious spenders may think is too much of a leap into the unknown. The Convertible is perhaps the most practical model for early adopters - and the one Microsoft expects to ship more of. In simple spec terms, think top-notch, 802.11 and Bluetooth-enabled laptop and you won't be too far wrong of the models available at launch, but it also has the added bonus of a swivel-and-fold conversion into the tablet format, which will rest neatly in a crooked arm, clipboard style. If you're into board room status symbols, the unit will certainly turn heads in meetings. Firing up your Tablet when sitting next to somebody favouring an A4 pad and chewed biro will be the boardroom equivalent of pulling up alongside a clapped out banger at the lights in your brand new mid-life crisis confirming sports car. But as the meeting progresses you may become aware of some sniggering. After all, there you are, using your stylus, writing on the screen of your Tablet - next to somebody using a pen, writing on a pad of paper. All of a sudden you realise the person at the lights driving the old banger in the motoring scenario is still going to get from A to B - just in less high-tech - and less expensive - style. So has Microsoft invested millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours just to re-invent paper? There comes a point about five minutes into the demo when you think this may in fact be the case. The Tablet is the first fruit of Bill Gates' more hands-on role in Microsoft (he stepped down as CEO in 2000 to spend more time on product development) and you can almost picture the meeting in which panicky Microsoft execs awkwardly scooped their pens and paper under the table and nodded affirmatively in Bill's direction as he told them how the Tablet would transform their working lives. And let's face it - it's a brave exec who tells the world's richest man that he's just stumbled upon a concept which the Egyptians hit upon several thousands of years previously (not forgetting God who released his own Tablet - storage capacity approx. 10 short-to-medium length commandments - around 1300BC). On the one hand it is certainly true that the Tablet is little more than a glorified ring bound notepad. The Journal software, complete with narrow ruled lines, red margin down the left of the page and stylus-enabled handwriting recognition, makes the point shamelessly explicit. But the advantage to the early adopting office user is brought through the Windows OS side of things. Most of us have desks littered with notepads, post-it notes and assorted scribbled names and phone numbers written on everything from a Starbucks serviette to the bottom of a bank statement. At its most simplistic level the Tablet brings order to such scribblings - treat Journal documents like random scraps of paper but then file them orderly in folders, as you would now with Word documents. Similarly, while you might know there's a scrap of paper on your desk with John Smith's phone number on it, it will doubtless be quicker to type 'John Smith' in the find function on the Tablet, which recognises words written freehand within documents. Portability of this information is also a massive bonus to the demographic Microsoft cringingly refers to as the 'Corridor Warriors'. Even if you don't want to put the Tablet through its paces, a cursory exploration of its uses shows it is the ultimate personal organiser. Click here to read the second part of the Tablet review.


You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All