Microsoft Unveils Future Of Tablet PC

Microsoft gave developers at WinHEC a behind-the-scenes peek Wednesday at technologies the software company is looking to include in future versions of Windows designed for mobile PCs.

SEATTLE—Microsoft on Wednesday gave WinHEC attendees a behind-the-scenes peek at future technologies the company is preparing for mobile PCs.

Darin Fish, business development manager in Microsoft Corp.s mobile platforms division, described the disclosure as a "work in progress." Furthermore, Fish said no final decision has been made whether there will be a mobile version of Longhorn, Microsofts next-generation operating system, or whether the technology will simply be part of the companys Tablet Edition OS.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about code-name Lonestar, the forthcoming Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005.

Still, Fish suggested that the capabilities of the tablet and notebook PC would converge. He predicted that during 2004 and 2005 so-called "pen and ink" technologies (also called "electronic ink") would become prevalent in both notebook and tablet systems.

"Do they buy a Tablet PC or this other notebook PC?" Fish asked. "You dont make that tradeoff. You buy this great notebook PC with pen and ink," using it as a notebook PC with a keyboard where appropriate, then swiveling the display and writing on it with a stylus in other situations, he said. He pointed to the Acer America Corp.s TravelMate C100 family, which can be used as a "convertible" Tablet PC.

The line has already become blurred by some market analysts. Gartner Inc., for example, has estimated that 47 million "mobile PCs" will be sold in 2004, rising to 71 million by 2007.

Microsoft will ship Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 this summer; previously, the software was known as Tablet Edition 2004, but the software giant renamed the release in a bid to emulate the "auto year" system used by car manufacturers.

The forthcoming software will sense the presence of a stylus, handling ink-to-text conversion on the fly. A new Version 1.7 SDK will also help developers, and the software will be tied more closely to Microsofts OneNote and Office.

During a demonstration, many of the enhancements appeared tied to a powerful toolbar, which Fish docked on the left-hand side of the screen. Screenshots of prototype code used the toolbar for a variety of tasks, including the display of stock quotes, reminders for upcoming appointments and battery life status, as well as other data in small but readable illustrations.

According to Fish, technologies that could appear in future versions of Windows and the Tablet PC edition include:

  • A "mobility center" for managing auxiliary connections.
  • Multiple monitor support and support for "extended displays" such as the Mira smart monitor. Also supported will be "auxiliary displays," which can be the size of a postage stamp or scale upwards to a PDA screen. He said these could be used to showcase upcoming appointments or critical data.
  • Mobile entertainment capabilities, including quick, almost-instant access to multimedia files, possibly to the point where users might not need to log in, Fish said. Obviously, security would be an issue, he observed. Users have also asked for the means to quickly search and transfer media that is stored on other PCs and mobile devices on the system, Fish said.
  • Expanded power management was also under study. Here, Microsoft intends to improve the user interface, Fish said. Minimizing the power consumed by a tablet is useful, he said, but users would also like to know exactly how much power is being used, how much is left, and how long it would take to refill a PC or tablet to a full battery charge.
  • Connection and collaboration. In an office meeting, for example, users should be able to quickly set up an ad-hoc network to share files, chat, or other tasks. Likewise, presentations should be able to be "projected" directly to other users.

    "I see lots of laptops here," Fish said. "Why couldnt I project this presentation directly to your laptops, or wirelessly to this big screen?"

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