A free video game that will be available for Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system highlights the pen-based features that more important business applications will take advantage of.
Characterised as a "productivity killer", according to Kelly Berschauer, product manager with Microsoft's Tablet PC team, Tablet Pool embodies the opportunity that software vendors will have when building more productive products for the new hardware designs. When positioned flat on a desk, the Tablet PC becomes a pool table, and the stylus pen - designed for writing hand-written notes on the device screen - a pool stick.
About 20 hardware manufacturers and distributors are backing the Tablet PC initiative. Many of these hardware makers say that the success of the Tablet PC lies in the software that will be available to run on them.
More than 20 ISVs, including SAP and Adobe, have announced applications designed specifically for the operating system that take advantage of its pen-based features. Some applications will be available immediately; some will be free; but all will show off new features that Microsoft is betting will reshape the landscape of mobile computers.
Microsoft will post on its site a downloadable add-on that adds inking capabilities to the Office XP productivity software suite. For example, users will be able to write e-mails by hand or ink comments into an Excel spreadsheet. Adobe will add inking into a future version of Acrobat Reader and Autodesk will do the same with its 3D rendering software.
A more advanced capability that software makers could adopt allows users to write in text entry fields, such as online forms for performing keyword searches or for naming a file. Microsoft calls this feature "in-line input", and while it is a handy feature, it will only be built in to some applications at the start, Microsoft said.
Internet Explorer - a prime candidate for in-line input - won't initially feature the technology, which means that users will have to either use an attached keyboard to type a Web address into the navigation bar, or use the touch-screen keyboard or writing pad.
Microsoft claims that the devices will be ideal for reading due to a technology built into the operating system called ClearType, which smooths the edges of text and graphics to make them easier to read. The Microsoft Reader software for reading electronic books will be released in a new version for the Tablet PC.
Specialised applications for vertical industries as diverse as banking, medicine and manufacturing are also an early focus among Microsoft and its software partners.
Microsoft will make available free software downloads as well as links to third-party applications at www.microsoft.com/tabletpc.