Tablet PC

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-12-23 Print this article Print

Lest the industry get too frisky in adopting platform-neutral standards and loosening the ties to its platforms, Microsoft—fresh from its antitrust victory in the same week—launched at the beginning of November its long-awaited Tablet PC platform, complete with a resource-intensive data type that only Tablet PCs can use.

What XML-based Office 11 promises to grant, the Tablet PCs Digital Ink could take away. It will make Microsofts OEMs happy, though, by consuming more processing power, memory, disk space and bandwidth to send the same notes that might otherwise have been typed, e-mailed, stored and indexed at a fraction of the cost.

In eWeek Labs November tests of six Tablet PC designs, about the nicest thing said of any of them was that the Tablet features didnt actually interfere with normal PC tasks. None of the six tested systems delivered what the Labs believes to be a necessary combination of accustomed laptop PC performance, go-anywhere notepad light weight, convenient switching from keyboard to stylus-only configuration and competitive price.

The computationally intensive Tablet platform wants to be a go- everywhere device, but that demands the kind of power parsimony previously promised only by purpose-built portable processors, such as the Pocket PCs ARM-family chips.

Transmeta Corp., in its Crusoe technology, sought to deliver comparable efficiency in hardware by handling x86 compatibility in software, with results in our first tests of HPs Compaq TC1000 Tablet PC that were literally an order of magnitude slower than those of Intel-based alternatives. We hope to find that the software shipped to customers in 2003 will improve on the pre-release version of Windows XP Tablet Edition that we tested on this unit, but it has a big gap to close.

Meanwhile, Intel announced its Banias initiative to design x86-compatible processors from the bottom up for low power consumption, rather than settling for trickle-down efficiency as a byproduct of shrinking feature sizes on successive generations of general-purpose chips.

Transmeta, therefore, goes into 2003 on the defensive, although its approach is paying surprising dividends in relatively predictable server workloads—and thereby making Transmeta an attractive option for high-density server blades, where power consumption translates to undesirable heat. Improved connectivity strategies and increased processing power will broaden blade applications in 2003.

More widely dispersed than server blades, but still representing a huge number of computational nodes, are the always-on but lightly used PCs in retail store displays. At years end, Gateway Inc. announced a plan to commercialize that power as a grid computing utility charging by processor minutes, a literal IT utility after years of hearing that phrase used as a figure of speech. IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. also made substantial commitments to this concept during 2002.

IP networks are the framework that makes such things possible, and enterprise demands for voice communication and shared data storage are turning toward the IP network as the place where bandwidth can be most cheaply had and most readily managed. Throughout 2002, eWeek Labs has seen network equipment makers enhancing wiring-closet equipment with the IP quality-of-service and management capabilities formerly reserved for high-end switches.

During 2002, that IP plumbing carried a growing load of storage and voice traffic. In eWeek Labs tests, Cisco Systems Inc.s SN5428 router demonstrated the low cost but still relatively poor performance that still hampers IP storage acceptance. IP offload adapters boost performance but at a cost. IP storage price and performance gaps should be narrowed in 2003.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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