Tablet PC a year away, developer tools out now

Microsoft Corp.'s super thin portable computer, called the Tablet PC, will be available in the second half of 2002, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said Tuesday, and the company has begun giving developers the software they need to build applications for the device.

Speaking at its Professional Developers Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gates said the company is working with hardware and software vendors to make the new computing device and applications ready for release by the end of next year.

"I think you'll be amazed at the maturity we've gotten in the areas of hardware, battery life and software," Gates said during his keynote.

The portable device will run Windows XP Professional and support leading wireless standards, including 802.11 b and its subsets. It will ship with a keyboard, Gates said, but users will rely mostly on its pen stylus to input data on the computer and navigate its user interface, similar to a handheld computer.

With the stylus, the Tablet PC, will make use of the sophisticated handwriting recognition capabilities Microsoft has been developing. Note-taking software is the flagship application that will be included with the Tablet PC. Similar to the company's Word application in Office, the note-taking software will allow users to format handwritten text, add new lines of text between existing notes and search a document. The company is also working on new Office applications specifically for the device.

With a microphone built in to the Tablet PC, future versions will also incorporate voice recognition allowing users to access and input data.

With its full-fledged release still a year away, third-party software makers can begin building applications now. The SDK (software developers kit) for the device was handed out at the show Tuesday. It provides documentation, sample programs, project templates and other technology pieces for building Tablet PC applications. Other testers can get the software through Microsoft's Tablet PC Early Adopter Program.

Highlighting the Tablet PC's use among developers, the device will include the .Net Framework, the architectural blueprint of Microsoft's Web-based computing platform.

The device will weigh 2.5 pounds (1.12 kilograms), have six to eight hours of battery power and includes support for docking and wireless technology, Microsoft said.

"It's everything you expect from a laptop and more," said Charlton Lui, development manager of Microsoft's Tablet PC group, who demonstrated the Tablet PC during the keynote presentation.

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Matt Berger

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