Microsoft Group Vice President of Productivity and Business Services Jeff Raikes unveiled the company's most recent plans for so-called knowledge workers yesterday; those plans include the Tablet PC and the next version of Microsoft Office. The Tablet PC is essentially a laptop; you use a stylus and an optional onscreen keyboard to interact with the device, which you use like a tablet. First-generation Tablet PCs will ship November 7, Raikes said. Meanwhile, Office 11 will ship in mid-2003 and will feature extensive XML support to help Office applications more easily integrate with Web services and server-based data.
Tablet PCs will come in two form factors: a simple slab-like device that uses a keyboard and mouse only when docked at a desk, and a convertible laptop with a screen that swivels around and latches over the keyboard, offering users an on-the-fly choice between form factors. Both form factors feature a pressure-sensitive screen with an active digitizer that tracks the stylus as it moves over the screen, producing more accurate interaction than currently available styluses. Raikes demonstrated nine Tablet PC models from several PC makers yesterday during his keynote address at TECHXNY (formerly PC Expo) and discussed the device's Journal feature, Office integration, and new version of Microsoft Reader, which will presumably work in portrait display mode.
Earlier this month, I spent a few weeks experimenting with a Tablet PC. You'll find my review of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, as well as a hardware photo gallery, on the SuperSite for Windows.
Microsoft will ship the first beta of Office 11 by the end of the summer; the final release is due in mid-2003. Raikes demonstrated an early build of the next Outlook client, showing how its database-like storage back end makes finding information easy and fast. I'll provide more information about Office 11 when the product becomes available.