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Windows XP Tablet PC Edition: A Look Back

As I began working on these retrospective articles, cleaning older SuperSite articles in the process thanks to a mangled content management system migration, I knew there would be a couple of tough spots, products for which I had created large amounts of content. The worst two, probably, are Windows XP and Windows Vista, the former because it was in the market for so long and the latter because it was in development for so long. So I'll be breaking up each into separate "Look Back" articles. And in the case of XP, I'll start with this Tablet PC Edition retrospective, followed by one on Media Center and then the biggest one, about XP generally.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition was one of two major additions to the XP lineup that came in the years after the main product line debuted in 2001. (The other was Media Center Edition.) There were two versions of XP for tablets, Tablet PC Edition (which appeared in 2002) and Tablet PC Edition 2005. After that, Tablet PC functionality was simply added directly into more mainstream Windows versions in Windows Vista and 7.

The early Tablet PC days were a heady time. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was an early adopter and proponent of this system and proudly declared that it would be a primary computing device for hundreds of millions of people within years. That never happened, but some of the technological advances Microsoft made in these products have stood the test of time, even in these days where more and more consumers are gravitating to simpler (and more simple-minded) devices like the iPad.

For example, XP Tablet PC Edition provided pretty incredible handwriting recognition that got better as it "learned" your writing style. But the big advance was that the OS could utilize handwriting as-is, as a first class data type. That is, unlike other handwriting schemes (including those found today elsewhere), XP didn't have to convert your handwriting to text. Instead, it simply understood your handwriting, so that when you did something like search for text terms in documents, documents containing handwriting would be searched just like any Word document or text file. The idea was that you would store your notes in your own handwriting and never worry about conversion.

XP Tablet PC Edition and the Tablet PCs that resulted--both the slate-style PCs similar to today's iPads and so-called convertible tablets that would work like a normal laptop usually--made plenty of sense in theory, and you could (and still can) see why business users in particular would be excited by such things. But neither took off in the market, a circumstance that I'm sure is still confusing to many at Microsoft. Early Tablet PCs were hampered by poor performance and battery life, a classic example of Microsoft's software being ahead of the curve. But as time wore on and the hardware improved, customers never arrived, and the hardware makers clearly lost interest.

With the recent market excitement over the iPad and other similar slate-type computing devices, it's possible that Microsoft will be able to jumpstart its Tablet PC efforts with Windows 8. If it does, the foundation for that success was laid a decade ago when the software giant sought to chart new territory with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

This retrospective includes my articles about Windows XP Tablet PC Edition as well as a few related Microsoft tablet/portable products like Origami/Ultra-Mobile PC, Smart Displays, and SPOT. As usual, the newest articles can be found at the top.

The Origami Experience: Windows Vista and the Ultra-Mobile PC - November 4, 2007

The UMPC is pretty much a non-starter for most users: While the Origami Experience is pleasant and well-designed, the underlying hardware is not even powerful enough to run mainstream multimedia content. Business users might be the best fit here: With a Wi-Fi connection and, preferably, a device with a keyboard, the UMPC is a somewhat capable email, Web, and productivity application solution. But you shouldn't dump your existing PC for one of these machines.

Tablet PC Prototypes, WinHEC 2005 Photo Gallery - April 25, 2005

Here are some photos of Longhorn-era Tablet PC prototypes.

Experience Pack for Tablet PC Review - April 4, 2005

Microsoft is now shipping a fun and free add-on for Tablet PC users that adds a number of consumer-friendly features and applications to XP Tablet PC Edition 2005. Dubbed the Experience Pack for Tablet PC, this package is essentially a Plus! Pack focused directly at consumers with Tablet PCs. And from my testing of this package over the past several days, it's pretty clear that this is something all Tablet PC owners are going to want to check out. Here's what you get.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 Review - August 30, 2004

With Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, the best mobile operating system has gotten even better. Thanks to the vastly improved Tablet Input Panel on the software side, and an amazing new array of innovative and varied Tablet PC hardware, it's pretty obvious that 2004 will be remembered as year the Tablet PC came of age. If you're in the market for a notebook computer, it's time to consider a Tablet PC.

WinHEC 2004: Microsoft Merges Tablet PC Future into Wider Mobile Computing Vision - May 6, 2004

Once seen as a laptop alternative, Tablet PCs will soon give way to a range of mobile PCs that meet all customers needs, a sharp departure from the niche products PC makers released until recently. As a software company, Microsoft creates the underlying platform that runs Tablet PCs and other mobile PCs, and the company is predictably planning a series of updates that will dramatically improve that platform for users.

Tablet PC Roundup - April 8, 2003

Five Tablet PCs, arrayed across the table from each other: A Toshiba Portegé 3500, a Compaq TC1000, an Electrovaya Scribbler, an Acer TravelMate C100, and a Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000. It's an awesome sight, for a geek anyway, and one I don't expect to see repeated again within my home. But they're here for now, anyway, and thanks to my seven-week adventure on the Microsoft Mobility Tour, I have this unique opportunity to provide an overview and comparison of these interesting mobile devices. And then I have to send them back.

Microsoft Mobility Tour - March 14, 2003

Here are my slides from the 2003 Microsoft Security Road Show - San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago - January to March, 2003.

Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) Preview - January 16, 2003

During his Fall COMDEX 2002 keynote address, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates briefly unveiled the company's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) initiative, in which everyday devices such as alarm clocks, wristwatches, key chains, and even refrigerator magnets are made more intelligent through a new hardware and software platform that is small enough to scale down to the sizes required by such devices.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Review - June 25, 2002

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is a superset of Windows XP Professional, with new features related to stylus input, rotating displays, handwriting recognition, and more. Though it's the most powerful version of Windows XP available, I have to wonder whether it will ever benefit from a wide audience.

Windows Powered Smart Displays ("Mira") Preview - May 1, 2002

Mira, which will be marketed as Windows Powered Smart Displays, is a new generation of smart screens that will "remote" the desktop experience to anywhere in the home. I was able to spend more time with various Mira devices at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2002 in Seattle this April, and this report has been updated with new photos and observations from that event, as well as information I've obtained since then.

Fall COMDEX 2000 - November 12, 2000

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates announces the Tablet PC during his COMDEX keynote address.

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