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Tablet PC Devices Launch

Microsoft gathered partners, analysts, customers and reporters in New York last week to launch the first generation of Tablet PCs built on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

Tablet PCs, slate-style computers similar in width and length to a sheet of paper and that allow users to write with a specialized pen, have long been a staple of Microsoft demos and aborted projects by other vendors. The Tablet PCs based on Windows XP PC Edition are designed to be a user's primary computer. The operating system accepts input from a keyboard, mouse, pen or voice.

The new class of units, standardized on the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, have gained traction with analysts and the trade press as having potential to reach a sustainable market.

Analyst Al Gillen at IDC says the units are likely to find strong niche markets in the same vertical industries where less standardized versions of flat, stylus-capable devices have already taken hold, such as health care, retail and shipping.

Microsoft and its partners are hoping the devices will reach a broader market. "The launch of the Tablet PC marks an exciting new era of mobile computing that is limited only by the imagination of its users," Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said in a statement. "The Tablet PC s a great example of how computers are adapting to how people really work, whether they're taking notes in a meeting, collaborating wirelessly with colleagues or reading on screen. We're just scratching the surface of what is possible."

Units fall into two general designs. One has an attached keyboard and can be configured in the traditional laptop mode. The other uses detachable keyboards in a "slate" form factor.

Nine companies have shipping hardware: Acer, FIC, Fujitsu PC, HP, Motion Computing, NEC, Tatung, Toshiba America Information Systems and ViewSonic. Another company, Matsushita Electronic Industrial, is building a Tablet PC under the Panasonic brand. The systems are based on low-power processors from Intel, Transmeta and Via Technologies.

Several companies have developed software specifically for the Tablet PC. Microsoft ships Office XP extensions with Tablet PCs for Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The software giant is also shipping a Microsoft Reader for Tablet PC and a Tablet PC version of Visio. Among about two dozen software titles for the Tablet PC are applications from Corel, SAP, Siemens and Adobe Systems.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.