Tomorrow, Microsoft will launch a new Windows XP Edition that runs only on special Tablet PC devices, ushering in a new era of mobile computing and fulfilling a long-time dream of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who has been trying to bring handwriting capabilities to the PC for over a decade. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition builds on XP Professional Service Pack 1 (SP1), adding handwriting recognition and a new digital ink data format, new handwriting-enabled applications, and support for new Tablet PC-specific hardware such as active digitizers and styli. XP Tablet will be launched tomorrow in New York, along with numerous new Tablet PC devices and supporting third party software.

But despite the gala launch event, Gates' backing, and broad industry support, questions about the Tablet PC remain. In my review of XP Tablet on the SuperSite for Windows (URL below), I note the central problem, which is data interoperability. By default, Microsoft expects Tablet PC users to use digital ink as the native data format, so that handwritten notes will remain in digital ink format and not be translated to text. But this makes it hard for users to share documents with non-Tablet PC users, because the notes will be transferred as images or, if translated, poorly-convereted text documents. If two Tablet PC users wish to exchange digital ink documents, the results could be even worse: Who wants notes written in someone else's (usually lousy) handwriting?

But like Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE), which also requires specific hardware, Microsoft's Tablet PC software could eventually find its way to mainstream machines if the new tablet devices take off, and if that happens, the XP's tablet capabilities could become part of the base Windows OS. If truly successful, all laptops will simply become Tablet PCs. In the meantime, we have at least two new form factors to worry about, including true slab-like tablet devices that can be docked and used as desktop machines, and so-called convertible laptops, whose screens can be swiveled around to facilitate normal laptop-like functionality. And Hewlett-Packard (HP) will market a third, unique type of Tablet PC, which it will feature a detachable keyboard. The HP device, and numerous other new Tablet PCs, will be unveiled tomorrow at the New York launch event.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition reviewed