Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005the first major upgrade to the Tablet PC operating systemprovides enough enhancements to entice some new converts. The update also will tide over current fans and developers until the release of a "Longhorn" version for Tablet PCsor whatever Microsoft has planned for the Tablet operating system on the companys long and often-winding product road map. eWEEK Labs tests show that Tablet PC Edition 2005 dramatically improves on the initial releases handwriting-recognition capabilities and makes the overall Tablet PC experience more satisfying. However, enterprises evaluating Tablet PCs as possible notebook replacements should wait until Microsoft clarifies its plans for the operating system.When Windows XP Tablet PC Edition was initially released, in November 2002, eWEEK Labs found the operating system surprisingly mature for a Microsoft 1.0 product. With the new release, Microsoft has more tightly integrated the platform with Office applications and has added useful new capabilities, including support for Tablet ink input from within Internet Explorer 5.5 and up. Tablet PC Edition 2005code-named Lonestaris expected to be released this summer as part of the Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) release. The upgrade will be free to current Tablet users and included with purchases of new Tablet hardware. Although its tie-in with Windows XP SP2 has delayed the new Tablet PC operating systems release (originally expected this month), Tablet users will benefit from the security enhancements to XP that are expected in the service pack update. eWEEK Labs tested Release Candidate 1 of the new operating system on a Gateway Inc. M275 Tablet PC with a 1.4GHz Pentium M processor and 512MB of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM). Prices for the M275 Tablet PC start at $1,799. When working with the initial release of the Tablet PC operating system, we experienced frustration with handwriting recognition. The operating systems capabilities were technically sophisticated but error-prone, punctuated by an inability to translate simple words. Microsoft officials have said handwriting-recognition improvements are not the centerpiece of Tablet PC Edition 2005, but nothing stands out more in the new operating system. The latest Tablet version eliminates the Write Anywhere function found in the previous release and has vastly improved the TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel) feature. For example, Tablet PC Edition 2005 incorporates support for an in-place TIP that opens anywhere on the screen that the pen is recognized. During tests, as we moved the pen around the screen, TIP traveled with us. TIP also grew in size as we reached the end of each line, which allowed us to input multiple lines of ink more easily. Handwriting can be dynamically converted into text, which improved the ink-to-text experience for those of us in the Labs with less-than-perfect handwriting. Using the new Character Pad in TIP, we were able to preview the systems recognition of our handwriting and make corrections before inserting text into a document. The addition of context-recognition capabilitieswhich limit text input to a particular contextalso reduces errors. By recognizing only Web site URLs and e-mail addresses in a particular field, for example, the operating system can recognize handwriting faster and more accurately. The Tablet PC operating system has been reworked to offer better integration with Microsoft Office 2003. In this version, we could easily annotate 2003 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and handwrite e-mail within the Office Outlook 2003 client. Users with older versions of Office, however, will not get the same ink capabilities. To read eWEEK Labs review of Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 SP1, click here. Tablet PC Edition 2005 also offers new capabilities for developers, particularly in context tagging for ink recognition in applications. Using the new Tablet PC SDK (Software Development Kit) 1.7 tool, which will be made available to developers for free via download, developers can create a simple XML file to add the context-sensitive support into form fields. For example, developers could create a form field for phone numbers and then limit the Tablet PC recognition engine for that field to numbers. In this way, the engine matches the users input to numbers rather than to the entire set of possible characters a user might enter. The Tablet PC SDK 1.7 tool also offers additional ink support for Web-based software. Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms Windows Center at http://windows.eweek.com for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.
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