the Tablet PC was shown off by Bill Gates for his Comdex Fall 2000 Keynote
address the air was abuzz with news it would be powered by a Crusoe processor.
Many people saw this as simple posturing by Gates for friend and Transmeta
investor Paul Allen. Whatever the case may have been, the Tablet PC made
its first public debut and solidified the growing trend towards scaleable functionality
Traditionally computers have been tied down to one location, residing at home
or in the office. However, with continuing advances in wireless connectivity the
traditional computer market has become fractured and segmented into many new classes.
This sits in parallel to the automotive industry where classes for cars,
trucks, and their sport utility variants have existed for some time now.
For computers the range and breath of classes which exist is still relatively
small. Moving from the most powerful to the most portable the picture looks
something like this; Servers - Work Stations - Desktops - IMacs (all
in one units) - Notebooks - Sub Notebooks - Full Tablets - Web Pads -
IA's - Palm Tops - PDA's - WAP devices, and finally, embedded applications
just to name a few.
Enter the Tablet PC, a full featured system running a
Windows variant OS on ANY X86 capable low-power
processor. That 'any' is the key word to make note of as "Microsoft
expects all chip companies will produce great low-powered CPU's because it is
convinced that this is the direction in which mainstream personal computing is
." While Transmeta may have had the honor of being the first processor
to associate itself with the Tablet PC, Microsoft is by no means removing
the prospect of competition for its mobile computing platform.
Not much on the detailed workings of the Tablet PC has been released, but we
do know a few things. The device runs on the Windows OS, maintains wireless
connectivity via 802.11 and Bluetooth, has a touch sensitive high resolution LCD
display for use with with a stylus, uses a hard drive for storage, has at least
128MB of onboard memory, uses an advanced hand writing recognition application
which leaves written entries in their original form, is light enough to be held
in one hand and finally that it will not be using an embedded OS like Mobile
Linux. While battery life is expected to be long, no specific times have been
mentioned. Microsoft expects to have the OEM produced units to market in 2002,
priced competitively with standard "full-function PC's."
Of all this, one thing is abundantly clear after reading the Microsoft Press Releases. Microsoft is desperately trying to
persuade users from taking interest in the WebPad variant IA's. Citing
the ability to use "full-strength" familiar Microsoft Software applications, no need for
formatting or porting of data, full internet connectivity and the ability
to open attachments from emails. Thus the Tablet PC seems to be less of
an innovation and more of a Notebook with a formfactor facelift.
This notion brings up the question (as I suppose it was designed to) of
what exactly so called WebPads offer and what the consumers preconceived
expectations are for them. Are WebPads simply browsers with email functionality
akin to WebTV? Or, are they simply operating on a hybrid OS while delivering
most of the functionality of a normal notebook? Lastly and most importantly,
what will consumers be satisfied with?
While Mobile Linux based WebPads are extremely promising, their apparent
limitations will probably be surpassed with continued development. Meanwhile several other manufacturers
have already begun to market their Tablet PC variations. Innolabs have
already demo'd a full-feature tablet running on Crusoe with Windows 2000. It appears that
this level of functionality is the most promising for the consumer right now.
The browser and email-only platform is simply too limited by the internet
Were software applications that are currently only
available as installed programs widely accessible from the Internet itself the
situation would take on a different light. Were the browser to be
interface to access Word or AutoCAD residing on a NET-based 'application server'
the tables would be sharply turned in favor of the Mobile Linux