Microsofts Tablet PC—Maybe Next Year

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-04-08 Print this article Print

Microsoft's forthcoming tablet operating system is not so much a new operating system as it is Windows XP with even more stuff, hence its official name: Windows XP Tablet Edition.

Talk about tablet computers has been de rigueur for at least 10 years—maybe more, if you count some of the Tandy TRS-80 junkies out there. But this time, were a tiny bit closer to reality; in other words, weve finally evolved beyond the failed concept of the Momenta—which was, once upon a time, the most-hyped machine since Apples Lisa.

I once owned a Momenta "tablet PC." The beast sat in my leaky garage for nearly a year, proving that mold grows quite well on vinyl and plastic. The most I can say for it is that it was more productive as a science experiment than as a PC.

The old Momenta, which seemed chic at the time, is about the same size as a general-issue, fully functional notebook—2.5 inches thick, 12 inches wide, weighing 7 pounds. It was powered by a 386SX with 4MB of RAM and was excruciatingly slow, even back then. So whats different about these new devices? The first thing is that Microsoft is working on a general-purpose tablet PC design. The second is that tablets are being designed as evolutions of notebook computers, not as entirely new designs. Third, there are alternatives.

Microsofts forthcoming tablet operating system is not so much a new operating system as it is Windows XP with even more stuff, hence its official name: Windows XP Tablet Edition. In other words, Microsoft is talking about shipping a superset of XP at the same time that several states are discussing "Windows Lite."

Legal issues aside, Windows XP Tablet Edition, even in its infant form, is a remarkable operating system. Its not going to make everyone dump the keyboard and opt for a stylus, but its enough to persuade most people to give it a shot. Its clear that Microsoft is investing a huge chunk of change into the usability of the pen device.

As yet, Microsoft has set in stone only some basic hardware requirements, which means when the tablets come out, therell be a large variety of the devices, as with the PDA market. It also means that it will take another year to shake out the design flaws. That means well see acceptance of tablets sometime late next year.

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    As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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