In last week's Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, John D. Ruley discussed Microsoft's launch of the Tablet PC. Today, I want to provide my impressions of the technology and show you some key features of the Tablet PC platform.

I had the pleasure of attending the Tablet PC launch events in Denver and Salt Lake City and copresented a session. Since I began to play with the Tablet PC more than 2 months ago, I've been consistently impressed by the maturity of the technology, which is something Microsoft has been quietly working on for more than 10 years.

The new Tablet PC devices are based on the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition platform, which is basically XP Professional Edition with Tablet PC features. You can do anything on the Tablet PC that you can do with XP Pro, including running wireless networking, using Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook applications, and developing custom applications. Several hardware vendors have released or will soon release devices based on XP Tablet PC Edition. These vendors include Hewlett-Packard (HP), Acer, Toshiba, Motion Computing, and Fujitsu. The hardware resembles a typical notebook, with the addition of a digitized pen and a Tablet PC screen. The advantage of using a digitized pen over a regular stylus is that only the pen can affect the display; therefore, you can drag your entire hand across the screen and nothing will happen.

The Tablet PC lets you write with digital ink, a functionality that differs from that of previous Windows CE-based tablet PCs and even Pocket PC's writing features. Digital ink lets you write on the Tablet PC screen just as you would on a piece of paper. You can push heavily or lightly, and the screen texture provides resistance so that you can write naturally.

The Tablet PC offers additional applications, such as Windows Journal, Ink Ball, and Snippet. The useful Windows Journal lets you use the digitized pen to handwrite notes, change fonts, erase items, and easily move items around on the "page." Windows Journal doesn't automatically convert your writing to text, but instead stores your handwritten notes in the Windows Journal format. Windows Journal then performs background recognition on your notes and stores the metadata with the handwritten notes. The advantage of this approach is that if you need to find some notes you took last week, last month, or last year, you can simply search by keyword to retrieve the appropriate Windows Journal document. The fun Ink Ball application lets you use ink strokes to play a pinball-style game. Snippet lets you snip items of interest from the Web, add handwritten comments, and email the results to anyone.

In my next Mobile & Wireless UPDATE commentary, I'll continue my discussion of the Tablet PC by looking at advanced features and development ideas.