Microsoft has shipped an add-on pack for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 that's designed to make Tablet PCs more enjoyable for consumers. Dubbed the Experience Pack for Tablet PC, the add-on features six new utilities that enhance the Tablet PC in fun and exciting ways.

The Experience Pack for Tablet PC consists of these applications and add-ons:
   - Energy Blue Theme Pack. This theme, which now includes a new Windows Media Player (WMP) skin, first debuted with Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 2005 and was previously available to Tablet PC owners as a separate download. The theme is cleaner and more professional looking than the default XP theme.
   - Ink Desktop. This innovative OS add-on lets you jot notes and drawings directly on the XP desktop. You can configure Ink Desktop to display different templates (e.g., note pad, to-do list, monthly calendar) or to be completely transparent.
   - Snipping Tool 2.0. A full-featured update to a classic Tablet PC PowerToy that lets you virtually clip information from Web pages and other documents, the new Snipping Tool includes a completely revamped UI, different clipping styles (including rectangular and complete window), and various paste targets.
   - Ink Art. This amazing natural paint program is so realistic you'll think you're painting or drawing directly on the Tablet PC's screen. One stunning feature, the tracing paper, lets you paint "over" digital photographs, which produces artistic interpretations of your favorite pictures, even if you aren't an artist.
   - Ink Crossword. A virtual crossword puzzle that comes with 12 puzzles and the ability to download more free and paid puzzles, Ink Crossword includes an optional timer and a letter-help feature and prompts you when you enter correct or incorrect letters.
   - Media Transfer. This software-based Windows Media Connect client lets Tablet PC owners easily download or stream digital photos, music, and videos from other XP-based PCs in their homes.

All these applications and add-ons require XP Tablet PC Edition 2005; they won't install on other versions of XP. You can download the Experience Pack from the Microsoft Web site.

The Experience Pack's release coincides with a recent marketing push by Microsoft and its hardware partners to expand the devices into more markets. "This is not a new direction for the Tablet PC," a Microsoft representative told me recently. "Instead, it's an expansion." First-generation Tablet PCs focused only on the enterprise and on select niche markets, such as medical and manufacturing, where pen-based computing makes sense. Today, there are Tablet PCs available for a variety of markets, including the volume consumer market, and at a variety of price points.

I've been playing with the Experience Pack since last week and have found that most of the tools are extremely fun and well designed; I recommend that all Tablet PC owners check out the package. My full review of Experience Pack for Tablet PC will be available on the SuperSite for Windows later today.