Microsoft Polishes Tablet PC

New version improves developer support, image handling and handwriting features.

Microsoft Corp. is readying a new version of the Tablet PC operating system that improves developer support, image handling and handwriting features.

Code-named Lonestar, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2004 has a larger "ink-to-text" panel than the current version, meaning users can scrawl longer e-mail messages that the computer then translates into typed text.

The new operating system, which was demonstrated here at Comdex, also has a better handwriting recognition engine that lets it anticipate what kind of data to expect—a phone number or a state, for example—which generates more accurate recognition results. This should help doctors who write drug prescriptions on their tablets, according to officials at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., who said the health care field is a big market for tablet computers.

The new operating system also offers single-image deployment, meaning customers can e-mail and annotate the same document without having to create multiple versions of that document.

Tablet PC Edition 2004 also includes new capabilities for developers that will ease integration with enterprise applications, officials said, adding that the new writing-focused features help justify a decision to buy a Tablet PC rather than a standard notebook computer.

The operating system is in alpha tests, and it will be available to the public next summer as a free download upgrade, officials said.

Meanwhile, two Tablet PC licensees last week at Comdex launched hardware based on the current version of the operating system.

ViewSonic Corp. introduced the V1250, its first "convertible" Tablet PC, which can transform from notebook mode to slate mode by rotating the LCD screen to lie flat. The V1250 weighs less than 4 pounds. It runs on Intel Corp.s Centrino chip set, which includes the Mobile Pentium M processor and support for 802.11b wireless LAN connectivity. Pricing ranges from $1,795 to $2,299 depending on configuration.

Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. introduced a new tablet with an adjustable docking station. The Portégé M200/M205 Series also includes programmable application buttons. The list price is $2,499.