Tablet PC Prototypes Arrive at COMDEX

Keeping the promise he made at last year's COMDEX keynote, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates used Sunday's address to debut the first prototype Tablet PC devices, or as the company calls them, "the next-generation mobile business PC." Coming in a variety of form factors from a long list of vendors, a Tablet PC may resemble an Etch-a-Sketch, or feature a notebook-like clamshell design. With a full day of battery life and a weight of just 2.5 pounds, Microsoft believes the Tablet PC will solve the problems associated with current mobile computing.

Perhaps learning from the falling PDA and desolate Internet appliance markets, the Tablet PC is a full-fledged computer running Windows XP. It is not intended to simplify tasks, but rather make it easier to complete those tasks when away from a desk, or standing up. Devices will feature pen-based input, as well as speech recognition.

Many Tablet PC devices will act as a display when docked at a workstation with a keyboard and mouse, according to Microsoft, and thus offer high resolution screens.

"This will be your primary computer -- it's not a 'companion' device to anything else, except a companion to you," said Ted Clarke, head of Compaq's Tablet PC division. "It will have the capabilities and full functionality of a Windows XP notebook that you'll be able to -- and want to -- carry with you everywhere."

Although branded Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, the OS will run the exact same applications as today's notebooks. Microsoft has already announced it will extend Office XP to support the Tablet PC's stylus interface. Users will be able to send handwritten e-mail, add comments to documents, and annotate PowerPoint slides with the device's "rich ink." Note-taking software called Journal will be included to serve as an "unlimited source of virtual notepaper."

Intel, Transmeta, and VIA have signed on to develop Tablet PC microprocessors, with ViewSonic, NEC, Acer, Compaq, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and others also joining the initiative. Adobe and Corel are among those who will extend to their applications to support the Tablet PC platform.

Although details regarding pricing and release dates will emerge in the coming months, Microsoft expects Tablet PCs to hit stores in the second half of 2002 and cost about the same as midrange laptops.

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