For the past 10 days or so, I've been playing around with a ViewSonic ViewPad 1000. ViewSonic calls the device a Tablet PC, and it certainly looks like one. Its dimensions are approximately 11" x 8.5" x 1". Most of the front is composed of a 10.4" LCD display. The device features an 800MHz Celeron processor, 256MB RAM, and a 10GB hard disk. The ViewPad 1000 comes with a nifty docking station that includes a CD-ROM drive, and the device works with a wireless keyboard.

Sounds like a Tablet PC, right? Not according to Microsoft. The ViewPad uses a touchscreen rather than an active-matrix digitizer. The ViewPad's touchscreen works just like a Palm device's or Pocket PC's display—you can use the supplied stylus or your finger as a mouse replacement. With an active-matrix digitizer, you must use a supplied stylus, which interacts electronically with a grid beneath the LCD display. Active-matrix digitizers run at much higher resolutions than touchscreens do. Microsoft is specifying active-matrix digitizers for Tablet PCs because they provide better-looking electronic ink and improve handwriting-recognition performance.

The downside of an active-matrix digitizer is that it doesn't work without the stylus. If you lose the stylus, you're out of luck. (For this reason, the Acer convertible notebook-or-Tablet-PC device I recently tested has a spare stylus that fits in a slot on the display.) Also, using your finger is often much more convenient than grabbing the stylus.

This discussion raises a question: Will Microsoft permit devices such as the ViewPad to use Windows XP Tablet PC Edition? I think the company should. An established market—mainly vertical—exists for touchscreen "pen tablet" devices such as the ViewPad (and similar devices from Fujitsu, Sharp, and others). Anyone looking at these devices will think they're Tablet PCs—and for all intents and purposes, they are.

Today, ViewSonic is using Windows 2000 on the ViewPad. Fujitsu and Sharp primarily use Windows 98 with Microsoft's Pen Extensions, which I'm told Microsoft will discontinue when XP Tablet PC Edition ships this fall.

I wish the ViewPad came with XP. The device has a built-in 802.11b wireless NIC, but I haven't been able to get it working with my in-house wireless network. XP includes a standardized UI that lets you easily identify and join existing wireless networks. Older OSs don't provide the necessary UI: Instead, you must run a vendor-supplied utility, which seems to be missing from the ViewPad. I've avoided XP until now, but having used it on other devices, I miss it on the ViewPad!

How will this controversy work out? When I find out, you'll read about it here. For more information about the ViewPad, see the following URL.
http://www.viewsonic.com/products/tablet_pc_viewpad1000.htm