Vendors like the taste of Tablet PC, sign on

Calling Microsoft's Tablet PC an "evolution of the portable PC form factor," Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, has announced partnerships with Compaq, Acer, Fujitsu, Sony, and Toshiba. The company will also work with both Intel and Transmeta. to develop low-power, battery-friendly processors for the devices.

Though the tablets will vary according to manufacturer, initial models should be thin, probably 1.5 inches or less; weigh 2 to 3 pounds, and have 10-inch displays in a roughly 11.5- by-8.5-inch form factor. Expect wireless connectivity as well.

Each tablet will run the upcoming Microsoft XP operating system, and will be compatible with existing applications, Gates said, calling the device revolutionary.

Gates first introduced Microsoft's Tablet PC concept at last year's Comdex. He said today he expects the first products to start arriving from vendors sometime in 2002.

But Microsoft is hardly the first to conceive of tablet computers. Fujitsu and other vendors have been selling tablet computers for years, but the format was basically confined to vertical markets, such as the UPS delivery service.

That has begun to change recently with products such as the Qbe Vivo from Aqcess Technologies, which supports both Windows Me and Windows 2000. Companies such as Siemens and Sharp are also planning to introduce systems, but these will run on Windows CE.

It's in the Ink

"It (Microsoft's Tablet PC) combines the simplicity of paper and the power of a PC," Microsoft's Charlton Lui said during his keynote demonstration of the tablet. He noted that the tablet PC isn't an Internet appliance, but a full-fledged PC that will come equipped with all the power and storage of a notebook computer.

Making that power work for users means combining a touchscreen interface, a special hardware pen, and new software from Microsoft to make it all work together. That software lets you save your scribbles as is, translate them into actual text, and even edit within a handwritten document.

By using a display that samples many times faster than a standard mouse, Microsoft can make writing on the tablet effortless, like ink flowing from a pen, Lui said.

Phoenix technologies president and chief executive officer Al Sisto also noted that the handwriting recognition features should make the device popular in countries where language is character-driven, which can make it difficult to use a keyboard.

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Tom Mainelli

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