Microsoft to Debut Windows Tablet OS

Hardware devices to ship by end of year; software in development.

Microsoft Corp. plans to throw a long-awaited coming-out party for its latest operating system, the Tablet PC OS, which takes Windows XP to a brand-new form factor.

Along with the rollout will be a handful of device manufacturers announcing Tablet PC-based products, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Acer Inc., Fujitsu PC Corp., ViewSonic Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Most of these vendors expect to have their devices, which are about the size of a legal notepad and half the weight of a typical laptop, on sale by the end of the year. They are expected to retail for about $2,200, according to Microsoft officials, in Redmond, Wash.

Software developers are also designing products for the new platform. Corel Corp., for example, next week will unveil Grafigo, a "graphics on the go" application. The company has plans for various enterprise versions of Grafigo for vertical segments, such as manufacturing, according to sources close to the Ottawa company.

The gist of the Tablet PC system is that it combines pen-based handheld computing and speech recognition with a traditional PC operating system, enabling users to make notes directly within applications and integrate text and voice.

Microsofts licensees have designed their devices accordingly.

Some consist of a large, lightweight display that users can operate with a stylus when on the go and can then attach to a docking station when at their desks. Unlike most notebook PCs, Tablet PC devices can be removed from docking stations while still running.

Critics question the ruggedness of the Tablet PC form factor. "I know my guys in the field would just beat on it," said Tommer Catlin, IS director at Webcor Technologies Inc., a construction contracting company in San Mateo, Calif. "We saw the one from Acer, which is hinged—and a hinge is going to break."

Acers C100, which was first demonstrated early this year, will ship with an 800MHz mobile Pentium III, 256 MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive. The San Jose, Calif., companys device boasts a 10.4-inch LCD display with 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution, a 10/100M-bps Fast Ethernet connection, a 56K-bps V.90 data/fax modem and 802.11b compatibility. It measures 8 inches by 10 inches, is 1 inch thick and weighs 3.1 pounds.

Microsoft officials said it may take a while for the industry to get used to using a big handheld computer, but speaking to an audience at Comdex in Las Vegas last year, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said he was already using a Tablet "as my everyday computer."