By Vijaya Cherian
The phrase ‘take a tablet’ has been one of the most overly used in the IT world during the last 12 months. But for many, the tablet PC is still shrouded in mystery. Here’s the lowdown on getting the best from your machine on the go.
I|~||~||~|Think of yourself grabbing a notepad from your desk and rushing to a meeting. Now imagine if you could do the same thing with a PC — being able to pull it out of the docking station without having to switch it off or on, and walk into your conference room without any down time. The good news is that the dream is already a reality in the guise of the tablet PC — a handy little machine that has evolved out of the business notebook and uses pen-based technology. One of the wonders of the tablet PC is that it functions like a writing pad and does not require handwriting recognition software (although the feature is available). Instead, you can write, store and send information in your own handwriting as an e-mail attachment. If the recipient does not have a tablet, he can either download free software from www.microsoft.com to read your file or see it in tiff or html. Who needs a tablet PC?Journalists.Businessmen.Sales executives.The tablet was designed to meet the needs of the corporate information worker, who attends many meetings throughout the day. These are the so-called corridor warriors and the road warriors — people who are always on the go to their next meeting or sales call or those who spend the majority of their time away from their corporate office.Corridor warriors in medium and large companies routinely find themselves in meetings every day. These users take lots of pen and paper notes and often need to refer back to their notes later. They can benefit immediately from using the tablet PC, simply by taking advantage of its digital note-taking capabilities.The road warriors are the sales executives and businessmen who are constantly on the road; in sales calls and meetings or in airports and cabs with their laptop in tow. They take a lot of notes, work with a variety of team members in locations inside and outside their office, and need a lightweight portable PC that they can use for extended periods of time away from their primary power source. The Tablet PC with its long battery life and direct pen manipulation enables these people to be more productive while on the road. Its light weight, robust note taking, and built-in wireless capabilities allow them to perform on the go.||**||II|~||~||~| Anybody else?Students.Nurses.Aircraft engineers.Automobile servicemen.Home users, gaming enthusiasts, graphic artists and other consumers are generally better off with a high-end desktop PC, which will give them their money's worth. However, there are other fields that can benefit from the tablet such as schools, universities, airports and hospitals. One local school in the UAE with 500 students has decided to deploy a tablet PC to each of its students while a university in Dubai is looking to make it mandatory for students to have a tablet PC. However, the tablet has been viewed with much scepticism since its entry into the market. After all, they have lower specifications and cost more than a good high-end PC. And if it is to compete with a laptop, the latter comes with higher specifications and a better budget. So what is it that makes the tablet an endearing companion for those on the go? The answer is probably something to do with the special features that you can’t have on a desktop PC or a notebook. Microsoft has really worked very hard on this one. Check out the software that makes the tablet a little piece of dynamite that can keep you connected anytime, anyplace.The hardwareProcessor: Pentium 3 processor 800 to 1,000 MHz. Currently, tablets do not come with the P4 because of battery and heat considerations but the next generation tablet PC hardware will be available for the P4. Moreover, the use of smaller, powerful low-powered processors are designed to keep thermals down and add longevity to battery life by consuming up to 40 percent less power. They run cooler, and don't require a fan, which helps Tablet PCs be lightweight and cool, so users can use them in comfortable writing positions.Memory: 256 to 512 MB RAM is the usual. Space-saving, higher-capacity hard drives take up less internal space resulting in lighter-weight PCs.Hard disk: 20 to 40 GB HDD.Wireless options: Wireless communications and infrastructures that are becoming standard in many corporate environments make mobility a key element in today's computing scenarios. The Tablet PC provides support for the mobile functionality needed for today's corporate computing environment.Drives: DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo. Battery: Tablet PCs come with better battery life. Longer-life and lighter-weight batteries can last more than six hours. Better display resolution: High-resolution XGA displays have improved screen views in smaller dimensions. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition includes ClearType display technology to ensure a better reading experience.Price range: $2,200-$3,000. ||**||III|~||~||~| You ware it wellSo far, the Windows Tablet PC version is the only OS available for the tablet PC. It is said that the tablet would be a useless hardware commodity without the OS it runs on; simply because this time the OS is so carefully tied in with the product. The Windows Tablet PC Edition comes with some handy features that combine the power of the pen with the dynamics of a notebook — a powerful combination that keeps the road warrior connected while giving him digital convenience. The Windows Journal utilityOne of the best things about the tablet is the versatile Windows Journal utility. This was created because of a realisation that users typically don't transcribe notes they've just taken in a meeting when they get back to their desk. They do, however, revisit their notes after meetings for reference, to share contact information or pull content out for use in their daily work.This is where the wonder of the Windows Journal comes in. It enables you to convert your handwritten notes to text, provides a search that checks even handwritten notes, and lets you capture everything you need in your digital notes, such as free-form drawings and even importing graphics files. As if this is not enough, you can also share your notes with non-tablet PC users. How? By attaching them as tiff or jpeg files or by exporting them to MHTML files that are viewable by any user with Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 and higher. The Journal allows you to keep your handwriting as it is — if you so wish. If you want to make important notes in red or circle something in green or highlight something in any other colour, it can all be done in the Journal. You can circle important points, doodle and mark up specific areas. And when you are done, you can either save it as is or erase the parts that you don't want with the back of your stylus pen, which operates like the standard eraser on a pencil. The only difference is that here, you mimic the gesture instead of rubbing at the screen. The magic is not really in the stylus but in the software. Microsoft Snippet:A special wonder tool in the Journal is the Microsoft Snippet. If you see something on the web that you like, you can take the snippet tool, circle the area that you find important, write on it digitally with your handwriting, and send it by e-mail to anybody you like. The person will get the snippet as well as the URL of the page that you were referring to. For those who prefer the traditional keyboard and mouse, however, these options are available with all tablet PCs; either as a standard or with the relevant sockets. The tablet also includes an on- screen keyboard as part of the Input Panel — an additional option for inputting data and text when away from the desk.Digital signatures: Although digital signatures have been available with Windows XP, the tablet allows you to sign them in your handwriting. A little icon at the bottom of the letter will show that you have put your signature on it and it is a document. Any changes made to this document by another person will not carry the signature on it. This is a safety feature aimed at preventing anybody from altering digital letters. ||**||IV|~||~||~| Forms Builder:This application is particularly useful for schools and hospitals that give you registration forms or application forms to fill out. With a tablet PC, these forms can be filled just like you would on paper. The only difference is that you literally write and tick answers straight onto the tablet, thereby eliminating the need for manual data entry. The Office PackAlthough you need to install the usual PC-based version of Office XP on the tablet, you must also download an additional Office Pack for the Tablet PC from the Office Tools on www.microsoft.com. This Tablet Pack adds ink and pen enhancements to the core Office XP applications such as Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint. Ink enhancement means that you can literally write in ink and send. Ink MagicThe power of the Office Pack lies in a little enhancement called Ink. It enables you to send ink e-mail that includes writing and drawings (using the pen to write an e-mail message in a relatively natural way). Ink e-mail can be viewed by any HTML or rich-ink e-mail client, regardless of whether the recipient uses a tablet PC. For Outlook:When the Office Pack is installed, an Ink Comment button is added to the reviewing button on the reviewing toolbar. When users want to insert a new comment at the insertion point, they simply click the Ink Comment button and ink in the commenting region just as they do in the current Word 2002 Comment feature. The handwritten comments appear in Word Comment bubbles in the margins of a document and can be accepted or rejected and sorted by author, just like text comments in Word 2002 today. For PowerPoint:With ink, PowerPoint 2002 users can annotate slides with ink in either Edit or Slide Show view. In Slide Show view, users can circle items, draw diagrams, or mark up things during the presentation to add emphasis just where it is needed. These extra annotations can be saved with the PowerPoint file or deleted enabling users to repeat the same presentation many times over. There’s more...Most tablets are fully voice enabled and handwriting enabled. A digital pen allows you to write directly on the tablet PC screen, just as you would, using pen on paper. While you can record sound, a speech-recognition technology also enables you to convert your voice to text. This is the tricky bit as the software is trained to understand English as most Americans speak it. All other users will need a minimum of six hours to train the system to understand English as they speak it. It’s just as important to know that the technology currently does not support multiple users on one tablet. ||**||V|~||~||~|The Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP also comes with a new Control Panel applet called Tablet and Pen Settings, both of which are located in the Control Panel. These settings allow users to: 1. Set right or left handedness for better handwriting recognition.2. Adjust the sensitivity of the LCD to the way a particular user holds his or her pen.3. Change screen orientation between landscape and portrait modes. This is particularly useful when you read books and magazines on the tablet. 4. Set screen brightness.5. Change the default settings of the hardware buttons.6. Change how a pen substitutes for standard mouse movements such as click,double-click, right-click, and hover.7. Set handwriting-recognition language. Tablets offer other new mobile usesHot dockingTablet PCs have a surprise hot docking feature. This enables users to quickly grab their PC and go without having to change their PC to a standby or state of hibernation. Wireless connectivityToday, with increased expectations for productivity and connectivity within the corporate environment, people are working at odd times. A wireless local area network (WLANs) that permits easy access to the Internet at broadband speeds has become highly appreciated. It has also come to mean that the workplace has extended from the cubicle into coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and hallways. A majority of tablets come with built-in support for wireless connectivity, which enables users to stay connected away from their desk. Instant screen rotationEvery Windows XP Tablet PC supports instant screen rotation without requiring aReboot, which means you can view your screen vertically or horizontally. This is especially helpful when you are reading a book on screen with Microsoft Reader. Multiple form factorsTablet PCs are very flexible in that they can be docked at a desk to support a large screen monitor, mouse, and full-size keyboard. Look at it any way and it’s for most people on the move. But simply reading about the features of the tablet PC will not suffice to convince a person of its strong points. Instead, walk into a store that sells tablet PCs and try out some of its features. See how good you are with the stylus. Check out the handwriting recognition software. Try the voice bit, tinker with some of the other features. There is a likelihood that you'll walk out of the shop with a tablet PC tucked under your arm!||**||