- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

It is temptingly easy as some have done with President Bush over the years to "misunderestimate" the new Tablet PC platform introduced last week by Microsoft Corp. and a raft of hardware manufacturers, including Acer, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard.
In any of its various guises, a Tablet PC runs a special version of the Windows XP operating system and lets users "ink" comments, or entire documents, by writing on a screen with a "digital pen."
The notes can be transcribed or, perhaps better, saved and indexed electronically. Several programs offered with the unit include the ability to interact with the digital pen in creative ways, and an add-on to Microsoft's Office suite allows ink to intrude on Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Outlook e-mails, among other items.
Many analysts and pundits including AnchorDesk.com honcho David Coursey, mobile-computing expert Andrew Seybold and Giga senior fellow Rob Enderle were a bit dour on surveying the market when we all spoke on Mr. Coursey's CNET Radio talk show Nov. 8. Mr. Seybold suggested that a few thousand of the machines will sell, principally because the computer makers will go out and buy each other's products. These observers had issues with the quality of Microsoft's digital-ink technology or with the cost of the Tablet PC, which does exceed the average notebook PC price by a bit.
May I suggest that, not unlike a certain American chief executive, the Tablet PC could end up surprising a few people along the way? Switching between a traditional notebook PC and a tablet on which one can write, draw, edit and annotate has its advantages. Add some extra applications and features and you've got what may be a winning product in many settings: legal, corporate and even academic.
During the past couple of weeks, I've used an Acer TravelMate C102Ti, which sells for $2,199 at the Acer America Web site (www.acer.com/us). This 3.1-pound computer sports a 10.4-inch (diagonal) screen, a 30 GB hard disk, built-in Ethernet and wireless 802.11b networking, along with a battery life of 3.5 hours. An external CD-ROM drive hooks up via a USB port.
Operated normally, the Acer device features a regular keyboard that may prove a challenge to the ham-handed. But it runs like any other Windows computer, and, with Windows XP, that's not too bad.
However, the release of a couple of hinges and the careful rotation of the display screen sets up an interesting metamorphosis: the Tablet PC is, it turns out, a tablet on which one can take notes. There's a "Windows Journal" program, which lets one title a set of notes and add pages with a click when a page is full.
And when you flip the Acer's screen around, a quick press of two buttons changes the display orientation from landscape to portrait, making it look more like the writing tablet it has become.
Franklin Covey, whose paper-based Franklin Planner is superpopular among the organized set, has an electronic version that is a total stunner. Connecting to Microsoft Outlook for calendaring and address-book data, the Franklin Planner for Tablet PC is the electronic equivalent of paper, and then some. If you're a habitue of the Franklin system, this software could easily be the "killer app" that drives you to a Tablet PC. Details on the software can be found at www.franklincovey.com.
Zinio Systems Inc. (www.zinio.com) is using its Zinio Reader software to deliver magazines such as Business Week and PC Magazine to Tablet PC users; the reading experience is very much like the print version, without the annoyance of "blow-in" cards.
E-mail [email protected] or visit his Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk to Mr. Kellner live on Fridays from 5-6 p.m. EST on www.adrenalineradio.com.


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