Launching Microsoft's Tablet PC

December 01, 2002 |

The new Tablet PC finally launched last month to major fanfare at a Broadway theater. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates brought in actor Rob Lowe, who told how he uses his Tablet PC to make script notes for The West Wing, while author Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) described how her Tablet PC enables her to sketch ideas for her next book.

Sounds pretty nerdy for Broadway, but Gates has spent a fortune on the R&D and marketing to get this technology right.

Microsoft recruited many of the leading laptop makers — including HP, NEC, Acer, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and Viewsonic — to develop models to enhance their existing product lines and offer users a variety of styles to choose from.

In addition to the biggies, a new player, WalkAbout, has developed two ruggedized devices (under the brand name Hammerhead) that are perfect for use in the field.

WalkAbout's Convertible model has attached keyboards that look like traditional laptops. In this style, the screen is rotated and laid flat against the computer for note taking with pen input.

The company's Pure Tablet or Slate style has ultra-light and ultra-slim screen tablets that can dock to large monitors and keyboards. When the device is undocked, all input must be made through the stylus.

With their grab-and-go technology, these tablets can be undocked easily to take to meetings or into the field, making them ideal for on-the-go Building Team members — commercial, institutional, and industrial property owners and the design and construction professionals who serve them.

They all ship with an extended version of Microsoft's operating system called Windows XP for Tablet PC. This operating system offers handwriting and speech recognition tools on top of Windows for a natural progression from the traditional keyboard and mouse.

As the Tablet PC starts moving into the field, you'll start hearing such terms as Digital Pen & Ink, Gestures, Sticky Notes, Windows Journal, Character Recognizer, and Inkball. These are the basic tools that make the system work.

The operating system upgrade is available as a free download from This is important even if you don't have a Tablet PC, because the upgrade enables you to open and read handwritten documents and e-mails from Tablet PC users on your current computer.

In addition to the hardware platform, many applications have been enhanced to take advantage of the technology.

Notable among these software tools is SketchBook Pro, from Alias|Wavefront, the same company that provides high-end 3-D technology for the movie and design industries.

Alias SketchBook Pro transforms the Tablet PC into a digital sketchpad. With this software, you'll be able to use your Tablet PC to sketch, annotate images, and present your work whenever creativity strikes. Unlike pen and paper, SketchBook Pro allows you to switch brushes electronically, quickly undo and redo, manipulate image layers, and integrate digital sketches into the Windows XP world.

Where existing graphics packages are complex toolkits designed for production artists sitting at a workstation, SketchBook Pro enables virtually any designer to create and modify imagery anywhere the job might take them.

Many other architectural, engineering, and construction industry software developers are adding Tablet PC capabilities to their product lines, including Autodesk (Architectural Studio), Corel (Grafigo), and Microsoft itself (Visio). In addition to graphics-based software vendors, companies that offer computer applications based on collaboration, form input, and customer relationship management have adapted pen-enabled input capabilities for their products.

I give Microsoft and its partners a high grade for executing a great product at the right time, especially when the A/E/C community is looking for innovative ways to use technology in the field.

We have been using the term "PC" for years in short for "personal computer." With the Tablet PC, A/E/C professional have a product with third-generation handwriting and speech recognition capability that is just that, personal.


For more product information
Alias SketchBook Pro: Architectural Studio: Grafigo:
Microsoft Tablet PC: Visio: WalkAbout:
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