Pen-Based Programs Debut With Tablet PC
Paradoxically, Microsoft is showing off a video game to highlight business features of Tablet PCs, which make their debut this week.
Just as bundling Solitaire with Windows helped train people to use a mouse, the free downloadable Tablet Pool game relies on pen-based features of the new systems. Microsoft hopes, of course, that software developers will ship business applications that take advantage of the pen input functions, too. But the game itself qualifies as a "productivity killer," acknowledged Kelly Berschauer, product manager with Microsoft's Tablet PC team.
Still, Tablet Pool illustrates what software developers can do with the new hardware design. When positioned flat on a desk, the Tablet PC becomes a pool table, and the stylus pen--designed for writing notes by hand on the device screen--becomes a pool stick.
Arif Maskatia, chief technology officer at Acer, which has
built one of the
"Microsoft has been working for the last two and a half years with [software vendors] to make sure software is enabled," Maskatia said.
Microsoft is posting free downloadable software and linking to third-party
More than 20 ISVs, including SAP and
Adobe, are announcing applications designed specifically for the
Nearly all of the early applications will take advantage of a
core OS feature:
Microsoft will post on its site a downloadable add-on that adds inking capabilities to the Office XP productivity software suite. With it, users will be able to write e-mails by hand or ink comments into an Excel spreadsheet, for example. Adobe will add inking to a future version of Acrobat Reader, the company said, and Autodesk said it will do the same with its 3D rendering software.
A more advanced capability, called "inline input," available for software makers to adopt allows users to write in text entry fields. Microsoft expects that users will take advantage of the capability to handle such tasks as filling in online forms, performing keyword searches, and naming files.
While inline input is a handy feature, it will be built in to only some applications at the start, Microsoft said. Even Internet Explorer--a prime candidate for inline input--won't initially feature the technology. Instead, users will have to enter Web addresses into the navigation bar via an attached keyboard, or use the Tablet PC's touch-screen keyboard or writing pad.
Microsoft claims the devices' ClearType technology, which is also used in Pocket PCs, will make Tablet PCs ideal for reading. The technology smooths the edges of text and graphics to make them easier to read.
The Microsoft Reader software for
Zinio Systems, which offers a similar service for reading magazines and periodicals, will also make available a souped-up reading application called Zinio Reader. The company said that application will ship on devices from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, as well as be available on the Web.
Software development company Leszynski, the mastermind behind Tablet Pool, has developed a number of other Tablet PC applications that will be available as free downloads or bundled on some systems. One application, Snippit, lets a user draw a circle around any data displayed on the screen--whether part of a Web page or of a Word document--and capture that data as an image file. The snipped data can then be e-mailed or saved.
Alias/Wavefront, a division of Silicon Graphics, will release a drawing application called SketchBook, which shows off a Tablet PC's sketching capabilities. A low-end version of the sketch application will be available as a free download. The company plans to ship a high-end version of the program as well.
Corel is one of many software vendors targeting the early adopter enterprise market. The company will release an application called Grafigo, a collaboration and design application that will eventually ship in several editions for vertical markets.
Grafigo features a shape-recognition technology that automatically corrects and redraws crude sketches of a circle or rectangle. In addition, it uses the wireless capabilities of the Tablet PC to permit multiple device owners to collaborate on a single document.
Wireless collaboration is also the focus of software from WebEx Communications that will let users write simultaneously on whiteboards. Another groupware application is in development from Groove Networks, which plans to release peer-to-peer collaboration software.
Specialized applications for vertical industries such as banking, medicine, and manufacturing are another early focus of Microsoft and its software partners.
"We see a lot of interest from verticals," Microsoft's Berschauer said.
For example, medical imaging hardware and software company Stentor is releasing a version of its ISite software. With it, hospitals can take images from an MRI scanner and deliver them electronically to a Tablet PC for storage. Doctors can view the images and mark up files with a stylus, replacing earlier methods that required a lighted board and X-ray film.
Global law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges, which has been testing the Tablet PC since June, developed an internal application using Microsoft's software development kit.
The law firm's application blends Journal--Microsoft's free writing application, which resembles a pad of lined paper--and a voice recording application. With it, attorneys can take handwritten notes on their Tablet PCs during depositions, while recording the interviews through a microphone attached to the device. The handwritten text is synchronized with the voice recording, so when an attorney clicks on any word in the notes, the application jumps to the place in the recorded interview where that word was uttered.
Like Weil Gotshal & Manges, corporate developers are expected to be among the first to design and build applications specifically for the Tablet PC. Microsoft said it has distributed nearly 3000 copies of the SDK, and it hears every day from new companies that say they are tuning their internal applications to run on the new platform.