Gates, Ballmer Tout Tablets at Comdex

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LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft's two top executives don't usually party in public, but Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer made an exception Sunday night at the Comdex coming out of the new Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

And while both seemed eager to evangelize the handwriting-friendly Windows XP variant at a caviar-and-champagne Microsoft press party following Gates' keynote speech at the industry show, Gates admitted the OS may not captivate all users immediately.

"The handwriting recognition isn't perfect," he told a small group of reporters at the party in Mandalay Bay's chic Aureole restaurant. But, he said, people who use tablets wind up unconsciously training themselves to make their characters more recognizable. For example, a person who notices that the tablet has recognized the word "clip" as "dip" because the letters "c" and "i" are too close together will begin making them further apart.

Change of Opinion

Gates said he received an interesting graph from a Tablet PC user in which one axis was a timeline for the person's tablet use, and the other axis tracked the person's feelings about the unit. The graph showed that over time, the person went from not being able to use the device to really liking it.

"It can be confusing at first," Gates said.

Both he and Ballmer said the ideal Tablet PC user is someone who spends a lot of time in meetings. "In the first cut, meetings in the office," Ballmer said, "and in the second cut, meetings outside the office."

Asked if he thoughts tablets would be bought by individuals or by corporate IT departments, Gates replied, "Eighty percent of technology comes from the ground up." He said perhaps some law firms or other corporations might decide to outfit their workers with tablets, but for the most part individuals would introduce them to the workplace.

Coming Attractions

Gates said NEC next year would introduce the most lightweight tablet PC to date--a 2.2-pound unit. Earlier Sunday night, during his keynote, he showed off a new note-taking application for the Tablet PC called OneNote.

Gates' speech wasn't all tablet talk. He also previewed a variety of other products including Dell's first Pocket PC, an HP iPaq with a built-in fingerprint scanner for biometric security, and prototypes of coming smart devices such as a key chain and wristwatch capable of delivering news and personal messages in real time.

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