Microsoft will launch its anticipated tablet PC operating system in November, Microsoft Group Vice President of Productivity and Business Services Jeff Raikes said here Tuesday in the opening keynote of TechXNY/PC Expo.
Raikes also briefly previewed Office 11, an update of Microsoft's Office suite that he said will be released in about a year and that will feature improvements for mobile workers.
Microsoft will launch the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition on Nov. 7 with the backing of an array of hardware vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Fujitsu and Toshiba. The tablet PC "has been a long-held vision in our industry," Raikes said.
He shared the stage with a half dozen demo models from several hardware designers, illustrating the flexibility of the tablets' screens and their varied constructions, which included sleek industrial models for enterprise users, lightweight designs and ruggedly-built tablets intended for outdoor use.
Software developers supporting the launch include Corel, Adobe Systems, SAP and Franklin Covey. Raikes showed off several of their forthcoming products, illustrating how Adobe's graphics software and Franklin Covey's calendaring features can connect to other applications running on the tablet PC.
He also demonstrated several features of the tablet PC operating system using Microsoft's own applications. Handwriting-recognition features allow notes taken in Microsoft Word to be quickly transferred to other applications such as Outlook; handwritten notes can even be sent via e-mail, Raikes said.
One demonstrated feature that drew applause from the audience was the tablet PC's pressure-sensitive screen. Pressing hard on the screen draws a thick line, while a lighter touch sketches a thin one, Raikes showed.
A pair of IT employees from the New York Department of Environmental Protection interviewed after the keynote said they were intrigued by the tablet PC. Network manager Stuart Weiler said he has a Handspring PDA (personal digital assistant) at home that he's never used because the text input system is "too complicated." The tablet PC's apparently fluid handwriting recognition impressed him.
His colleague, network administrator Donovan Pigott, said the tablet PC would be a big help during meetings. At one recent staff meeting, he recalled, many were taking notes on their PDAs, but people would occasionally have to duck out to check data on their desktop PCs. Wirelessly connected tablet PCs would likely prevent that problem, and could also allow staffers to communicate via e-mail or instant messaging with their colleagues about urgent issues without disrupting a meeting, he said.
"If the Exchange server goes down, my boss could just send me (an instant) message, and I could send one back telling him what to do," Pigott said.
Raikes also used his keynote to announce the next version of Microsoft's Office suite, whose latest version, Office XP, came out in May 2001. The new overhaul, Office 11, will be released in mid-2003, Raikes said, and will look to address some of the challenges mobile workers face in a corporate environment.
The only Office application update Raikes specifically discussed was Microsoft Outlook. The new Outlook will feature enhanced search and mobile-networking tools in an effort to help users better manage their e-mail inboxes.
Raikes also demonstrated Pocket PC Phone Edition, a version of the company's operating system for devices that combine the functions of a handheld PC and a cell phone. The software will debut within the next few months on systems from VoiceStream Wireless Corp., Raikes said.
Another Microsoft product scheduled for launch shortly is an updated version of Microsoft Reader, Microsoft's e-books viewing software. Microsoft Reader 2.5 will be optimized for tablet PCs, Raikes said.