MS China lab comes of age with Tablet PC launch

The launch of the Tablet PC marks a second attempt by Microsoft to popularize pen computing, but to the 140 researchers and staff at Microsoft's Research center in Beijing, the event signifies something of a coming of age.

It was there that much of the research was done into the system that underlies the Tablet PC -- a technology Microsoft calls digital ink -- and its launch marks the commercialization of a product in which the center was heavily involved.

"They are working on many projects but this is the biggest they have done so far," said Alexandra Loeb, corporate vice president of the Tablet PC, who added that the Beijing center handled most of the research that was not carried out at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Established in January 1999 with a commitment to invest US$80 million over five years, Microsoft Research Asia was the company's only research center in Asia -- a position it still holds today. When it was formed, it was given the task of conducting basic research into human-computer interface technologies that will make PCs easier to use. More so than other markets, such technology is needed in Chinese-speaking nations where a variety of different input systems exist for typing Chinese into a PC.

It was this research focus that attracted Wang Jian, a researcher who had been working on such interface systems for more than six years before he joined MSR Asia three-and-a-half years ago.

"Before I joined Microsoft, I focused my work on interaction in 3D systems, like for virtual reality," he said. "But after working on this for more than five years, I started thinking we should provide a more natural interface for the work people do everyday instead of developing an interface for a more specialized system, like virtual reality."

But soon after the project began, Wang said he learned of the Tablet PC project and researchers got together to start collaborating.

Wang headed up work into ink parsing, the technological base of digital ink that seeks to make sense of what is being drawn on the tablet so users can benefit from the computing power in the device.

"Ink parsing technology tries to understand free form notes," he said. "Basically, if we have notes we should know whether people are writing, drawing or sketching. If it is writing, we can throw the digital ink through a traditional recognition system to get it recognized. If it is drawing or sketching, we can do other smart things, so ink parsing is a foundation for the whole process."

"That's the mission of Tablet PC. When I have a pen, its easier to write on paper but if you have parsing technology, you can use and take advantage of the power of the PC," he said.

With the first version of the software now hitting the market, Wang said he is already working on enhancements. At a recent "Ink Summit" held between members of his team and Microsoft's Tablet PC group, Wang said he demonstrated some of the technological enhancements he is working on.

These include a system called ink synthesis which can be used to both turn typed text into notes in the user's own handwriting or be used to clean up handwritten notes so they look neater but retain the basic handwriting style of the user.

Digital ink is not the only area in which MSR Asia is working. Researchers are studying subjects including media management, wireless technologies, speech and natural language processing. The company says it has significantly exceeded the $80 million investment commitment made in 1998 and has seen expansion of 30 percent in the last 12 months alone.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?