This week Robin Bloor and his colleagues consider Microsoft's tablet PC plans, a new way of looking at IT platforms and recent ecommerce hurdles...On 7 November 2002 Microsoft and its partners will reveal the much-discussed tablet PC. It is said to include, or at least enable, a whole new generation of software solutions. For instance, Corel is said to be developing a solution that will enable advanced web annotation features. Similarly, Microsoft is said to be pushing a tool called Snippet, essentially a news clipping device. Deep down, however, there is more substance to the tablet than just fancy cut and paste features. The tablet is tightly focussed on productivity - far more so than the PC could dream of being. It is expected to come with multiple input methods, for print, voice and electronic media. And it's all tightly coupled to the flexibility and transportability of the device. In essence, the tablet is little more than a customised notebook. It's fairly small, weighing about 3 pounds, and is likely to find itself being employed in many similar situations. The question now is what does Microsoft expect to happen with the device? Rumour has it it would like to see it replace any number of PC-like devices. But other rumours say it hopes the tablet will be a complimentary device. The fact is it could be both. In much the same way the mobile phone has become an ever present, multi-functioning device, so could the tablet. Microsoft is already rolling out software, it's already got the XP tablet edition, and much more is surely to come. As ever with these new class of devices, it's got to fill a role. The PDA did it to great effect thanks to Palm - which made the machine useful and functional without going overboard - winning over hearts and minds. But for the tablet - being as it is a rehashed PC/notebook - the applications will be the decision maker. And new 'killer' applications are never easy to come by. *Vertical platforms* Over the years we have seen the concept of the 'platform' as a horizontal layer of infrastructure. It is often the implementation of such platforms that adds so much to overall time scales and reduces ROI. The solution has always been to 'verticalise' the platform and it seems this trend is set to continue. Just think about it for a moment. At the lowest level you have servers and operating systems providing a platform for other infrastructures. Next up is the data layer - and that's before you can start to consider the applications that you're building. For the applications you have to consider everything from a systems management framework, workflow and document management through to a collection of ERP or CRM processes. Now think about how much time and effort it takes to configure each of those platforms. This is why projects run for too long and require too many consultants. In today's economic climate where fast ROI is the driving force, software businesses have to do something to speed up implementation times. The answer, it seems, is coming from two angles. The first is coming from the services businesses who are taking their experiences of platform configuration and building them into the base products. For example, IBM Global Services has fed most of the little tricks it has learned while implementing the Tivoli framework back into the company. These have been incorporated into the base installation of the products to reduce the time it takes to get up and running. The other option is one that has been with us for years and is making something of a comeback. That's the turnkey solution or application template. We saw lots of these around the time of Y2K. As time ran out for companies who wanted a new ERP solution, SAP and others collaborated with hardware suppliers to create partial solutions that were quick to customise. More recently, Autonomy has shifted from generic knowledge management solutions to specific vertical applications. Now, there are suggestions the suppliers of ebusiness infrastructures will be creating vertical templates for web servers, app servers and so on. These are becoming vertical platforms. The key vertical areas of financial services, retail and government are already seeing the benefits. They can choose suppliers that will deliver results quickly. They get a better deal all round. As the concept continues gathering momentum, we can all expect to benefit eventually. *Global ecommerce stalling?* The UK has seen a surge in online activity this year, with more and more individuals buying products and services across the internet, says Taylor Nelson Sofres in its latest assessment of ecommerce. The firm has discovered that in the past four weeks alone, some nine per cent of the UK's public have shopped online. This compares favourably with the same assessment last year, 2001, when it was only six per cent. That, of course, is only the figure for the UK's general public. When it gets into specific internet users the figure rises considerably. The past four weeks has actually seen a quarter, 23 per cent specifically, of the UK's internet population buy. Further to that, over the next six months some 15 per cent of the UK's internet public plan to make an online transaction. It gets better too. In the last four weeks the British online buying population has parted with an average of £325 online, and seven per cent of them have spent more than £650. Nice. The rest of the world isn't quite seeing the same effect, however. Globally, the proportion of the world's internet buying public is running at a worryingly flat rate. In the past four weeks, globally, the proportion of users making online purchases is only 15 per cent, exactly the same as it was in 2001. This is despite internet usage growing by 3 percentage points to 34 per cent. This points to a worrying trend Taylor Nelson Sofres says is down to that age-old-classic ecommerce spoiler - security. This is, officially, the biggest problem ecommerce is going to face. The problem though is that this has been the problem from day one. We've warned people about it, Taylor Nelson Sofres has warned people about it, you name it, we all know about it, but apparently not enough is being done to sort it. **Bloor Research is a leading independent analyst organisation in Europe. You can find out more at www.bloor-research.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .