Tablet PC: Software is the key

Early success for the Tablet PC will depend on the availability of effective software, and more than 20 independent software...

Early success for the Tablet PC will depend on the availability of effective software, and more than 20 independent software vendors, including SAP and Adobe, are set to announce applications for the latest device.

Some applications will be available immediately and some will be free, but all will show off features that Microsoft hopes will reshape the landscape of mobile computers.

Arif Maskatia, chief technology officer at Acer, which has built one of the first Tablet PCs that will be available to consumers, said Microsoft has done a fine job making sure that enough software is available to attract a diverse market.

"Microsoft has been working for the last two and a half years with software companies to make sure software is enabled," he said.

One of the operating system's core features that initial applications will take advantage of is Microsoft's digital inking technology, which allows users to sketch notes and diagrams on electronic documents.

A companion feature is the handwriting recognition engine that translates handwritten notes into typed text with variable success.

Microsoft will post on its site a downloadable add-on that adds inking capabilities to the Office XP productivity software suite. For example, users will be able to write e-mails by hand or ink comments into an Excel spreadsheet.

Adobe will add inking into a future version of Acrobat Reader and Autodesk said it would do the same with its 3D rendering software.

A more advanced capability that software makers could adopt allows users to write in text entry fields, such as online forms for performing keyword searches or for naming a file. Microsoft calls this feature "in-line input", but it will, initially, only be built in to some applications.

SAP is to release a version of its MySAP Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that allows users to use the stylus to enter text in various fields of a CRM document.

For example, sales employees will be able to write names, addresses and other details into a customer profile by hand. That information can then recognised and translated into typed text, then be sent to a back-end CRM database.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer - a prime candidate for inline input - will not, initially, feature the technology. This means users will have to use either an attached keyboard to type a Web address into the navigation bar, or use the touch-screen keyboard or writing pad.

Microsoft claimed the devices would be ideal for reading because of a technology built into the operating system called ClearType, which smoothes the edges of text and graphics to make them easier to read.

The Microsoft Reader software for reading electronic books will be released in an updated version for the Tablet PC, taking advantage of the readability features of the mobile devices. With it, users can download books from an online library and read them on their tablet. They can also use the stylus to take notes directly on the digital pages or highlight sections of text.

Zinio Systems, which offers a similar service for reading magazines and periodicals, will also make available a beefed-up reading application called Zinio ReaderT. The company said that application would ship on devices from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, and will be available on the Web.

Software development company Leszynski, the mastermind behind Tablet Pool, has developed a number of other applications that will be available as free downloads for Tablet PC users, and preloaded on devices from certain manufacturers.

One application, Snippit, allows a user to draw a circle around any data displayed on the screen, whether it is a portion of a Web page or a Word document, and capture that data as an image file. The snipped data can then be e-mailed or saved in the clipboard.

Alias/Wavefront, a division of Silicon Graphics, will release a drawing application called SketchBook, which shows off the sketching abilities that the Tablet PC offers. A low-end version of the sketch application will be available as a free download.

Corel is one of many software vendors targeting the early adopter enterprise market. It will release Grafigo, a collaboration and design application that will later be released in several editions geared toward vertical markets.

It features shape-recognition technology, which automatically corrects and redraws crude sketches of a circle or rectangle. Similarly, it uses the wireless capabilities of the Tablet PC to allow multiple device owners to collaborate on a single document.

Wireless collaboration will also be the focus of software from WebEx Communications, which will allow users to write on whiteboards simultaneously, and Groove Networks, which plans to release peer-to-peer collaboration software.

Specialised applications for vertical industries as diverse as banking, medicine and manufacturing, are also an early focus for Microsoft and its software partners. "We see a lot of interest from verticals," Microsoft's Berschauer said.

Stentor, a US-based medical imaging hardware and software company, is releasing a version of its iSite software for Tablet PC. Hospitals will be able to take images from an MRI scanner and store and deliver those images electronically to a Tablet PC. Doctors can then view the images and markup files with a stylus, replacing earlier methods that required a lighted board and X-ray film.

Weil Gotshal & Manges, a global law firm, has been testing the Tablet PC since June, and developed an internal application using Microsoft's software development kit (SDK) freely available to software vendors and corporate developers.

The law firm's application blends Journal - Microsoft's free writing application, that resembles a pad of lined paper - and a voice recording application. The firm can take handwritten notes during a deposition on their Tablet PC while recording the interview through a microphone attached to the device.

The handwritten text is synchronised with the voice recording so that clicking on any word in the notes takes you to the exact moment in the recorded interview when that word was spoken.

Like Weil Gotshal & Manges, corporate developers are expected to be some of the first to design and build applications specifically for the Tablet PC. Microsoft said it has distributed nearly 3,000 copies of the SDK, and it hears from new companies every day that say they have tuned their internal applications to run on the platform.

Microsoft will make available free software downloads as well as links to third-party applications at

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