Dont Judge Tablet PCs by Their Ink

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-07-01 Print this article Print

I'm positive about Tablet PCs, but it's getting tiresome to defend my position.

Tablet PCs have become the galvanizing notebook event of the year. People are either skeptical or love them. Theres no middle ground. Thats unfortunate because at this stage, thats exactly what they are. Tablet PCs, based on the Windows XP operating system, have tight links to the subnotebook world, and they show exactly how the notebook market is evolving.

Im positive about Tablet PCs, but its getting tiresome to defend my position. Many people believe that Microsofts Digital Ink technology is the basis of the Tablet PC and that the viability of the tablets inextricably depends on how well the Digital Ink technology deciphers a persons handwriting. Frankly, this is ridiculous. Most people cant read their own scrawl. The goal of Digital Ink is to offer a new way to input data—via a pen. Its not a magic trick.

Peoples reactions say more about our gizmo culture than the productivity of the Tablet PCs. Whenever people see me pull out the Acer Travelmate Tablet PC Ive been using, they flock to have their handwriting recognized. Thats too bad, since Digital Ink makes for a nice stored format on its own. Theres no real need to convert it to text.

That said, Digital Ink is a sophisticated technology. The ink algorithm tracks the pressure of the stylus, the coordinates and the timing of pen strokes to make determinations of what a persons handwriting actually means.

Digital Ink will work with Microsoft Office applications, plus some third-party applications. If Digital Ink has one failing at this time, its the lack of integration with Office applications. Users can write in pen format into Microsoft Word, for example, but its an incongruous affair. Most people will tend to work directly with the smaller applications written with Digital Ink in mind. Microsoft officials said this integration will be tightened in future releases. Since Digital Ink and Tablet PCs arent really shipping yet (theyll probably be out around Fall Comdex), that could be a year out.

Its unfortunate that many in the industry will ding Tablet PCs for these deficiencies, and others will avoid the technology altogether. Its their loss. Tablet PCs have much more to offer than the ink people write about them.

Are there other issues with Tablet PCs? Ink me at

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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