Tablet PC Software

What Can You Do With a Tablet PC?
(December 2002 issue)

Because "Windows XP Tablet PC Edition" is an extension to Windows XP Professional, a Tablet PC can run any existing Windows application. One answer to the question, "What can you do with a Tablet PC?" might therefore be, "Anything you can do with a laptop." However, while that's true, it misses the point.

A Tablet PC incorporates two fundamental values: (1) enhanced mobility, and (2) digital ink. With regard to mobility, the Tablet PC really is "the most mobile PC ever made," as Microsoft is fond of saying. You can use a Tablet PC in places where it hasn't been practical to use a PC before, such as meetings (where social conventions limit the use of a keyboard), while you're standing or walking (when it's impossible to type), and in coach airplane seats (where there isn't enough room to open a conventional laptop). While there are two different form-factors of Tablet PCs available, namely "pure tablets" and "convertible notebooks," both of them are more mobile than a conventional laptop.

The second fundamental value, "digital ink," is a new data type. Each ink stroke (or group of strokes) and its associated properties (color, width, author, text translation, etc.) can be manipulated and stored just like traditional ASCII text. In the past, ink was stored only as a bitmap, which severely limited its usefulness. Digital ink allows programs to use ink for many different things, including ink email, sketching, instant messaging, games (where the ink becomes a game element), highlighting, program control (through the use of gestures), annotation, ink chat, creative work, note-taking, traditional text entry, music creation - and even more uses that will appear in the future as the Tablet PC begins to take hold.

This article focuses on Windows software that has been enhanced or modified to support digital ink, or is especially suitable for use on a highly mobile PC. The software comes from two main sources - independent software developers (ISVs) who signed up early with Microsoft as Tablet PC partners, and Microsoft itself (through the capabilities of the Tablet PC operating system). Almost two dozen programs and capabilities are included. This article does not attempt to do a formal review of each of these; instead, the intent is to communicate the breadth of software that is available at the launch of the Tablet PC.

As the Tablet PC becomes an established Microsoft platform over the next several years, the author expects to see hundreds of applications modified or developed that take advantage of the Tablet PC's enhanced mobility and digital ink. The programs and applications covered in this article are just the beginning.

Adobe Acrobat (Editor's Choice)
Adobe Acrobat is best known for its ability to create PDF files from any document. However, it also includes a set of tools for reviewing and commenting on documents while protecting the integrity of the source. Multiple people can simultaneously exchange comments on a PDF document over a network, using sticky notes with free text, a highlight pen, strikethrough and underline tools, stamps, sound and graphic markups such as squares.

Traditionally this kind of collaborative review activity is done using paper copies of a document. Reviewing electronic documents in their native file formats isn't practical because it requires all the reviewers to have a copy of the authoring software on their computers. Using a PDF as the review copy eliminates this problem, and doing the review on a computer eliminates the use of paper. However, some of the Acrobat commenting tools (such as the "pencil tool") aren't very convenient to use with a mouse.

Enter the Tablet PC. Adobe Acrobat's review and comment functions are a natural for use on the Tablet PC. The pen allows "direct manipulation" (focusing your eyes and hand movements on the same spot, rather than moving a mouse on the desk and watching the effect on the screen). The Tablet PC's enhanced mobility and WiFi wireless connection make it possible to do collaborative review almost anywhere.

This is an example of a situation where an existing program (Adobe Acrobat 5.0) is especially suitable for use on the Tablet PC. Adobe hasn't announced any modifications to the current version to support the Tablet PC. However, at the Tablet PC launch in New York City on 11/7/02, Adobe showed a "demo" plug-in for Acrobat that automatically brings up the Tablet PC Input Panel whenever a user enters a writeable field in a PDF form. Think of those situations where you've had to read a long, form-based document and then fill in just a few fields in the form (e.g., a non-disclosure agreement, or a healthcare reimbursement form). Wouldn't it be more comfortable to read the form on a Tablet PC while sitting in an easy chair and use the pen to fill in the few fields?

Given the apparent good fit between Acrobat and the Tablet PC, along with Adobe's recent acquisition of Accelio Corporation (a company specializing in electronic forms for data capture), it's very likely that the next version of Acrobat will include substantially enhanced support for the Tablet PC - not only for review and commenting, but also in forms support. -

Allscripts TouchWorks
TouchWorks from Allscripts is a modular electronic medical record (EMR). Targeted at the clinical automation market (physicians, group practices and integrated delivery networks), TouchWorks is a web-based client-server application. It includes modules that cover many clinical functions within the physician office, including telephone call processing and triage, dictation, transcription, documentation management, prescription management, charge capture, note-taking, ambulatory orders, results review and reference material. Allscripts provides services to over 15,000 physicians at more than 4,000 sites nationwide.

One of the most important characteristics of TouchWorks is that it's hardware form-factor independent - the physician can use a combination of handheld, laptop, desktop... and Tablet PC. For example, a physician might dictate notes into a handheld (e.g., an iPAQ) while he's on rounds, add to the notes later in the day using an HP desktop in his office, and then review and sign off on the notes on an HP Tablet PC at the end of the day. (Note that Allscripts has a long-standing relationship with HP.) Given the enhanced mobility of the Tablet PC, the review-and-sign-off activity might even take place while the physician is sitting on the couch in his living room at home, watching Barney with his five-year-old daughter.

While there is a strong trend towards the use of handhelds by physicians, not everything can be done on a handheld. For example, doing order entry, viewing lab results and monitoring a patient's progress with cholesterol level over time require more resources and more screen real estate - something that a Tablet PC offers. Admittedly, laptops have been established for quite some time in healthcare environments, usually on rolling carts. However, the carts are actually a deterrent for physicians - they knock into people, block the hallways, get banged up, etc. The enhanced mobility of the Tablet PC may usher in an entirely new way of working with computers in healthcare.

TouchWorks is another example of an application that is already ideally suited for use on a Tablet PC. Allscripts is considering how to take advantage of digital ink, but like many healthcare IT firms, they're conservative in their approach to development. Their view is that the Tablet PC is just one more element in a large overall system, and while it's attractive, it doesn't make sense to focus a lot of development resources on it just yet. However, the Tablet PC's close integration of speech recognition and pen input holds substantial promise for the future of TouchWorks. -

Autodesk Architectural Studio
Architectural Studio is a conceptual design creation tool for architects and other design professionals. It recreates the traditional design studio (where intuitive, direct-manipulation tools such as pencils, markers and erasers are typically used) in a digital world for conceptual design, sketching, modeling and presentation. Within an Architectural Studio workspace, a user can integrate freehand sketches and conceptual models with precision drawings generated by CAD design programs and other software. Autodesk also offers Design Site, a service that lets Architectural Studio users collaborate and communicate with partners in an Internet-based, real-time environment that integrates sketches, CAD drawings, 3D models and renderings, photos, Office documents and even animations.

Most current use of Architectural Studio is on a desktop with a Wacom digitizing tablet. With the availability of the Tablet PC, an architect can work on-site without paper. For example, the design of a new building is always done in the context of the site, which can include other buildings, rivers, etc. Sketching on-site rather than working from photos can add substantial value to the design process. Later in the process, once the building is under construction, the Tablet PC can again eliminate paper. Instead of using the traditional process of reducing, marking-up and faxing drawings back and forth, the architect and contractor can communicate digitally using Tablet PCs.

While Architectural Studio has not been enhanced to support digital ink yet, Autodesk is working on enhancing at least one of their GIS (Geographic Information Systems) products such as Autodesk Map. This product, built on top of AutoCAD, gives engineers, planners, utility managers, and technicians the ability to create, maintain and produce maps, integrate data from many sources and formats, perform GIS analysis, and produce thematic maps. More details on Autodesk's Tablet PC GIS plans were not available in time for this article. -

Corel Grafigo
Grafigo (presumably named for "graphics on the go") is a new application written specifically for the Tablet PC. It is intended to enhance a mobile knowledge worker's ability to create, brainstorm, collaborate on ideas, take notes, and provide feedback on visuals while away from the office. Grafigo delivers sketching and annotation tools, symbol libraries, shape recognition and handwriting recognition in an entirely graphical user interface with almost no drop-down menus. Grafigo can import raster or bitmapped images (JPG, TIF, BMP, etc.) and uses an "onionskin" (transparent overlay) feature to allow annotation individually or in collaboration over the Internet (using Microsoft's NetMeeting). Files can be saved in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format, which can then be viewed by any application with support for SVG - including Internet Explorer.

The application uses the Microsoft .NET framework, is written entirely in Microsoft C# ("C sharp"), and was developed using Microsoft Visual Studio .NET. This allows the application to leverage the full power of .NET, be customized, consume Web services, and provide enterprise-based solutions. As such, Grafigo seems more like a demonstration platform for Microsoft development tools and Corel's development skills as an ISV than a serious commercial application. Supporting this impression are Corel's statements that their overall strategy is to "capture graphical workflows of mobile knowledge workers", and that their future emphasis will be on "developing specific tools for customers in key vertical markets." -

Colligo Personal
Colligo Personal is software for real-time, short-range, peer-to-peer interactions ("instant networking") using WiFi or Bluetooth wireless hardware. It supports groups of up to 10 people. Colligo's solution to the need to share files and information in ad-hoc meetings consists of two fundamental components. The first is the ability to communicate wirelessly in real time, rather than having to be funneled through a local access point or a back-end server on the Internet, or (even worse) struggle with IrDA or pass floppies around. The second is the layering of application services developed to run on top of the wireless platform, such as user-to-user file sharing, email, chat and instant messaging, document synchronization, and other collaborative activities.

Colligo's application supports the use of digital ink for chat and instant messaging. Ink support combined with the enhanced mobility of the Tablet PC and a $24.95 user license for the Windows version mean that it's a reasonable solution to an emerging need.

Eclipsys SunriseXA
Eclipsys' objective is "to empower clinicians and other members of a healthcare team to improve outcomes" (the term "outcomes" is healthcare jargon for the results of treating patients). Eclipsys' product, SunriseXA, is a form of electronic medical record (EMR). It is modular, with 25+ modules covering a wide range of clinical, revenue enhancing and expense management needs. Like many EMR applications, it uses client-server architecture, with most of the application running on the server. The client, however, has digital ink controls running locally.

Eclipsys has bought into digital ink in a big way. Their premier Tablet PC application has a built-in set of pre-defined anatomical images (hand, heart, head, etc.). The physician sits with a patient and uses digital ink to draw overlays on the images while explaining treatment plans -- e.g., where the blockage is, where a stent [a wire mesh tube] is going to be inserted, etc. The application allows multiple ink overlays, so progress can be shown over time (e.g., in treating severe burns). Scanned images can also be incorporated, including direct connections with digital cameras. For example, a physician might take a photo of a patient's rash or wound and then annotate it with digital ink in real time.

Eclipsys believes that the majority of Tablet PCs running their apps will be "pure" tablets, since their application is not very keyboard-centric. The top three user groups are expected to be (1) physicians (using the application described above), (2) nurses using handwriting recognition for entry of information such as blood pressure, and (3) case managers, a highly mobile group of users who tend to work all over the hospital with heavy emphasis on note-taking in digital ink. -

ESRI (formerly Environmental Systems Research Institute) is a company that's totally focused on geographical information systems (GIS). Their flagship product, ArcGIS, consists of a scalable family of applications that cover a wide range of GIS needs from the individual user to enterprise-wide systems. This includes such functions as mapping, geocoding, 3D geographic data visualization, spatial query, topographical analysis, geostatistical analysis, editing topologically integrated features, feature-linked annotation, advanced spatial analysis, and street address matching and map display. ESRI's GIS technology is found in dozens of industries, ranging from banking and insurance to forestry and surveying.

ESRI has enhanced their ArcMap product specifically for use on the Tablet PC by including support for multiple digital ink overlays. When a map is displayed in ArcMap, an ink toolbar appears (see the screen image above for an example). The toolbar includes tools for storing, highlighting, recognizing (with alternatives) and erasing ink, along with other functions. The user can even create special ink shapes (such as forest boundaries), define them as geographic features and store them in the database for later re-use.

In a typical usage scenario, a utility worker goes out into the field with a Tablet PC containing a map. The worker makes notes on the map using digital ink and then returns to the office. The ink, tied geographically to the spatial information, is stored in the enterprise system. Since all of ESRI's products share a common code base (using .NET), a consistent user experience, a unified extension model, and a single development environment, anyone in the enterprise using any ESRI application can make use of the worker's ink. ESRI also provides a downloadable ink API module that can be bound into non-Tablet PC applications, allowing users on non-Tablet PC versions of Windows to search for and view ink. -

Groove Workspace (Editor's Choice)
Groove is a decentralized collaboration platform. Unlike server-based collaboration software from the past such as Lotus Notes, Groove is entirely peer-to-peer. Groove allows small groups of people to create secure, interactive, shared workspaces. Each user's PC has a local copy of the workspace. All content, activity and gestures made by any member of the group are immediately duplicated on the other members' PCs. There is no "master copy" of the data in a shared workspace; each member's copy is a peer in the network. Although it's not required, a server may be included in the network to broker connections between offline members (who may never be online at the same time), or between members separated by corporate firewalls.

Once invited into a Groove workspace, you can work on a project, brainstorm, plan an event, discuss issues, share drafts and proposals, coordinate schedules or just "get stuff done." The Groove workspace incorporates tools to support all of these activities, including a calendar, contact manager, threaded discussion manager, document review tools, real-time co-editing tools, forms, meeting manager, notepad, outliner, picture viewer, bulletin board, project manager, sketchpad and real-time co-web-browsing tool. Additional tools are available from third-party developers, including tools for architectural drawing, CAD viewing, voting, co-reviewing digital media, mind mapping (project management), CRM, bug tracking, Outlook email integration, proposal management and other collaborative activities.

Groove's initial enhancement to support the Tablet PC is the addition of ink chat. Ink chat can be used for simple wireless messaging in a meeting, or you can embed images and other objects in the message, turning it into a kind of whiteboard messaging tool. There is also an existing sketchpad tool in Groove; with the availability of the Tablet PC's pen, the tool becomes much easier to use than with a mouse. Groove seems committed to the idea of digital ink, so future versions of the Groove workspace are likely to include additional ink support.

Groove has "thousands of small and medium business customers, and more than 50 Fortune 1000-class customers." In October 2001, Microsoft invested $51M in Groove; this is likely to bear fruit in areas such as increasingly tight integration between the Groove workspace and Microsoft Office applications, interoperability with Windows Messenger, and in-depth support of XML-based Web services. With the growing importance of collaboration in enterprise, Microsoft's full support and a $49 basic user license, Groove seems ideally positioned. -

FranklinCovey TabletPlanner (Editor's Choice)
FranklinCovey is known world-wide for (among other things) their paper-based "FranklinCovey Planner" personal productivity system. TabletPlanner is an implementation of the FranklinCovey Planner system on a Tablet PC, designed to take maximum advantage of digital ink. TabletPlanner's positioning is that it "provides the ease, speed and convenience of planning in your own handwriting, and the flexibility, indexing, storage and search capabilities of a mobile notebook computer."

TabletPlanner is like a PDA on steroids. It includes extensive note-taking features, prioritized daily task management, appointment scheduling, searching, synchronization with Microsoft Exchange, printing, document annotation, gestures for ease of use, and a capability called "eBinder" that provides a storage system for any kind of electronic documents - including web pages, Office documents, e-books, meeting agendas, etc. One of the basic principles taught in FranklinCovey's time management and productivity courses is the value of keeping everything in one place; eBinder is a "killer feature" of TabletPlanner that does exactly that and provides a high degree of leverage.

One difference between a PDA and TabletPlanner is that it's much easier to get information into and out of TabletPlanner. The Tablet PC's handwriting recognition is simply easier to use than Graffiti, and documents from any other application running on the Tablet PC can be put into eBinder by simply "printing" to TabletPlanner (like printing to a file). Actually, comparing TabletPlanner to a PDA is a little unfair to the PDA. TabletPlanner is more like a combination of Microsoft Journal for note-taking, all the Palm OS built-in applications for appointments and contacts, all the methodology of the Franklin Planning system for structure, and a free-form database such as AskSam ( for document storage, all supported by the Tablet PC's digital ink. It's quite something! The value proposition of the TabletPlanner is that it really does help you deal with information overload. It allows you to feel fulfilled at the end of a day, knowing that you've accomplished something.

Most Tablet PC buyers will have the opportunity to try TabletPlanner, since a 30-day trial version is being bundled with many brands of Tablet PCs (including Acer, HP, Fujitsu, Toshiba, PaceBlade and ViewSonic). You may think of the Franklin Planner as an "individual consumer" type of product, given that FranklinCovey has more than 180 retail stores around the country and sells more than 6 million copies of the Franklin Planner binder ever year. Actually, more than 50% of those customers are in enterprise. In fact, FranklinCovey's clients include 90% of the Fortune 100 and more than 75% of the Fortune 500. In that context, the apparent eagerness of the OEMs to bundle TabletPlanner with the mostly enterprise-oriented Tablet PC makes a lot of sense. -

Iteration Real-Time Platform
Iteration Software is a nine-month-old startup addressing the brand-new area of real-time enterprise reporting and information delivery. "Real-time" in this context means information delivered to a user within 2-10 seconds of an event or transaction. Real-time delivery of information has been used for more than 10 years in the financial industry for streaming stock quotes, but there aren't yet any enterprise reporting platforms that deliver what Iteration calls "active" (continuously changing) enterprise information. Iteration believes they will be among the first providers of such a platform; their first product is scheduled to ship by the end of 1Q03.

At the back end, Iteration's server taps into data flows produced by existing enterprise information systems such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, etc. "Tapping into" such data flows has only recently been made possible by the emergence of firms focusing on the "enterprise application integration" (EAI) market. These firms enable the exchange of information between enterprise information systems by defining open standards for inter-application message interfaces and formats; Iteration's server software simply "listens" for relevant messages.

On the front end, Iteration offers "Active Viewer," a thin user interface (UI) for sharing real-time information. (See the screen image above for an example of a hypothetical report that might be seen by a Tablet PC manufacturer.) This UI is supported by an administrative and architectural subsystem that allows creating reports and display formats that meet users' specific needs.

This is a very different approach to meeting management information needs than the traditional method of storing enterprise data in a data warehouse and running queries or batch reports against the store overnight or at longer intervals. Intended for data that has significant time value, Iteration's approach side-steps the data warehouse bottleneck and streams the data (typically in summary and/or "alert/exception" forms) directly to the user. Interestingly, the data stream is stored in a large RAM cache rather than written to disk - a direct result of the inherently transient nature of real-time data.

Iteration sees the Tablet PC as an ideal delivery mechanism for a real-time data stream. The enhanced mobility of wireless-equipped Tablet PCs enables Iteration's software to "find" the user wherever he or she is located and deliver the real-time information. Iteration also offers an enhanced version of their "Active Viewer" UI that includes ink annotation capability. Note, however, that annotating an "active" data report is quite different than annotating a static document such as PowerPoint presentation. Since the information data stream is real-time, the digital ink isn't stored on disk anywhere. It exists only in time, overlaid on a particular instance of a report in the RAM cache. When the report is updated or replaced minutes or hours later, the ink disappears. The purpose of the ink is to help users collaborate on a shared active data report - in that way, it functions similarly to an ink-based instant-messaging program. -

KeyLogix ActiveDocs
ActiveDocs is a companion product to Word 2002 that makes it easy to automate the document-creation process. Customizing standard documents (e.g., proposals, tenders, contracts, quotes, reports, etc.) and completing repetitive forms is an accepted part of business; however, very often this kind of work is done by the mistake-prone "cut, paste, and Save As" method in Word. Using Word templates can reduce mistakes and make the process faster, but automating the template for efficient use is generally a job for programmers using macros and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

Enter ActiveDocs, a set of tools that makes it simple to create an "intelligent" Word template, specify form fields and values, and create an automated template that helps you create a new document - all without programming. Once an initial template is created, it's marked up using ActiveDocs authoring tools. When the template is used to create a new Word document, ActiveDocs automatically displays a Document Wizard that prompts the user for responses. For example, if a project manager creates a new contract from an appropriate Word template, Word detects ActiveDocs functioning in the template and starts the Document Wizard. The wizard asks the project manager a series of questions, including pre-defined options. Based on the project manager's responses, ActiveDocs generates the contract. It puts the captured information in the correct place and formats the final document.

Keylogix has built support for the Tablet PC into the ActiveDocs application in a very clever way. In addition to normal ink recognition and translation into text, ink can also be used to annotate graphics in ways that drive the application (note that this is a capability that goes well beyond the Office Tablet Pack). This is best illustrated by an example. Suppose that the document being created is a rental agreement. The customer name and rental details are entered in ink and recognized, which triggers a database inquiry. Once the results of the inquiry are reviewed and approved, a graphic of a fuel gauge is displayed. The graphic can be marked to indicate the level of fuel remaining after the rental. If the gauge is marked "full", a conditional rule is applied, adding the "full tank" statement to the document. If a lower level is marked, the "vehicle needs refueling" statement is added. In addition, the graphic of the marked fuel gauge is stored in the document. -

Microsoft InkBall
InkBall is included with XP Tablet PC Edition, the same way that Minesweeper is included with Windows. Its real purpose, apart from entertainment, is to increase a Tablet PC user's comfort level with the pen, and to communicate the concept that ink can be used for something other than handwriting. In InkBall, ink strokes are reflecting surfaces. A ball bounces off an ink stroke at the same angle that it strikes it. An ink stroke disappears when a ball hits it, and a single ink stroke can affect only one ball.

The objective of the game is to earn points by drawing ink strokes to guide colored balls into holes of the same color. There are five ball colors, each assigned a different point value. The game has multiple levels of difficulty. As the level increases there are increasing ball speeds, more balls, more holes, and more complex game boards, including puzzle-style boards. The complexity of the game board is based not only on layout, but also on eight different kinds of walls. In addition to solid walls, these include walls that:

  • Disappear when struck by a ball of the same color
  • Change a ball into the same color as the wall
  • Appear and disappear on a timer cycle
  • Temporarily disappear when a ball enters a same-color hole
  • Deflect balls traveling in one direction only
  • Deflects balls of a different color than the wall
  • Combine one-way and different-color attributes
At higher levels of difficulty, the pace of the game can be quite frenetic. Try it, you may like it! -

Microsoft Journal
Journal is a note-taking application. To start using it, you tap the Pen button on the toolbar and start writing. When you're done writing, you can save the file as an ink note. At its simplest, that's all there is to it. You never have to explicitly recognize (translate) your ink into text. This concept ("ink as ink") has been one of the drums that Microsoft has been beating steadily for the last two years.

In reality, however, when you want to search your handwritten (digital ink) notes, the search algorithm searches the words that have been stored in the ink's property records as the output of background handwriting recognition. If your handwritten word "forecast" is recognized as "forward", you'll never find "forecast." Journal is therefore only useful if your handwriting has a consistently good recognition rate - and not everyone's does! If you want to be sure that your digital ink notes are searchable, it's advisable to explicitly recognize them and check that the key words are in fact correct.

That said, Journal offers lots of flexibility in how you can take notes. For example:

  • Ink size and color can be varied
  • The pen can be made pressure-sensitive (if your Tablet PC supports pressure)
  • Ink can be highlighted, erased, moved, bolded or italicized
  • Simple shapes such as circles, squares and lines can be recognized and cleaned up
  • Photos or other image files can be included in the middle of note pages
  • Space can be inserted or removed in the middle of an ink note
  • Ink can be converted into text and inserted into the note file or copied to the clipboard
  • Ink notes can be saved or printed
  • Stationary (note lines, colors, title format, background, etc.) can be changed
  • Templates can be used to standardize the format and structure for a particular type of note
Journal can be used as a document editor. External documents from Windows applications can be imported into Journal (as a "document image") and then marked up or annotated, just like on paper. The annotated document can then be printed, saved or emailed like any other note. Since the text in the imported document never changes, this method can be used for traditional copy editing, unlike using ink in Word 2002.

Journal is integrated with Outlook 2002. Ink can be converted into text and then automatically inserted into an email message. You can also attach an image of the original ink if desired (e.g., if it included sketches). In addition to an email, recognized ink from Journal can be inserted into an Outlook 2002 contact, appointment or task. In the reverse direction, Outlook meeting information can be inserted into a Journal note by selecting the meeting from a list. -

Microsoft Reader
Microsoft's Reader is a free program for reading e-books. It's designed to deliver an on-screen reading experience that approaches the convenience and quality of paper. One way it does this is by making use of Microsoft's ClearType, a newly patented technology for smoothing characters on LCD displays by addressing the sub-pixels within each RGB pixel. The Reader also pays attention to the traditions and benefits of good typography (clean layout and ample margins, along with proper spacing, leading and kerning).

The features of the Reader include the following: * Easy navigation with pen, keyboard, mouse and a "riffle control" * Find function for text search * Variable font size with enough range to create large-print books * Electronic bookmarks in the margin * Ink annotation, stored in one location for easy reference * Notes capability, similar to Sticky Notes * Highlighting, with the capability of listing all highlighted areas * Built-in Encarta dictionary (86,000 words) * Text-to-speech -

Microsoft Tablet Pack (Editor's Choice)
The "Microsoft Office XP Pack for Tablet PC" (Tablet Pack for short) is a free, downloadable add-on to Office XP (2002, v10) that enables the use of digital ink in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook, as well as in OLE-compatible programs such as Project 2002 and Visio 2002. The basic functionality is accessed by selecting "Ink drawing and writing area" on the Insert menu in Office XP applications. When you tap in the drawing and writing area, a floating Ink Toolbar appears. The toolbar provides the tools you need to work with ink, such as selection, resize, change thickness or color, copy, erase, highlight, etc. Ink entered in this manner is treated as an object, similar to the way that a graphic such as a drawing or photo is handled. Independent of the Tablet Pack, the Tablet PC Input Panel can still be used to enter ink that is converted to text anywhere in an Office application.

In Word 2002, ink drawing and writing areas can be located in a comment balloon, or directly in the document. In the former case, the ink is displayed in the margin of the document or in the Reviewing pane. In the latter case, since the ink is treated the same way that a graphic would be, re-flowing the text will change the spatial relationship between the text and the ink. This means that it's not practical to use ink for editing in the traditional way, where the spatial relationship between a given ink mark (such as an insert caret) and the text must remain unchanged.

In Excel 2002, multiple ink drawing and writing areas can be inserted anywhere on the worksheet. The same spatial relationship restriction that exists in Word applies.

In PowerPoint 2002, ink can be added to slides during creation or presentation. During creation, you can add ink to highlight something in the slide that you want to emphasize during the presentation, or use ink as a temporary placeholder for graphics that will be inserted later. During the presentation, you can use ink to take notes that are viewable by the audience, record questions, or add comments. The ink can be saved for later reference. The features in the Tablet Pack replace the pen feature that is included in PowerPoint 2002.

In Outlook 2002, ink can be inserted into a new, reply or forwarded email. The ink can be used to send a handwritten message, or a quick drawing such as a map. The ink appears as an embedded object to the recipient of the message, similar to the way a table or graphic appears. (If the recipient uses plain text as their email format, they will not be able to see the ink, since plain text email editors can't display embedded objects.) Word 2002 must be used as the email editor in order to enter ink. The Input Panel or a keyboard must be used to enter other information such as the "To" or "Subject". -

Microsoft Tablet Pool
Tablet Pool is a Microsoft "PowerToy" program. PowerToys are available free from Microsoft but not officially supported by Microsoft. PowerToys for the Tablet PC are being developed by the Leszynski Group ( The core of the Tablet Pool game is based on work done by Tavex (, a joint Ukrainian-American venture located in Kiev, Ukraine.

Tablet Pool emulates various versions of pool, a game that's been in existence for more than 500 years. One of the game's central characteristics is that it's much easier to play with a pen than with a mouse and keyboard. That said, it's still a very difficult game - at least as difficult as real pool. You can play by yourself, against the Tablet PC (in artificial intelligence [AI] mode), against other real players on the same Tablet PC or against remote players on a network.

The game is played as if the pen were a pool cue. Holding the pen near the cue ball causes the cursor to change into a graphic of a pool cue. The pen is moved slowly to aim a shot, and then pushed rapidly in the direction of the cue ball. The speed of the pen when it hits the cue ball determines the strength of the shot. The angle of the cue stick relative to the surface of the pool table, and the point where the cue stick strikes the cue ball (for English and masse shots) can be controlled through manipulating on-screen graphics. The game makes realistic "clacking" sounds when the balls strike each other.

This game depends on skillful manipulation of the pen, not on digital ink. (Ink is used only when players are "signing in" at the beginning of a game, and when entering the IP address of the game server in network play.) If you've had too much caffeine, forget playing Tablet Pool - it requires a very steady hand. In addition, if your Tablet PC's digitizer is noisy (i.e., if the cursor position "jitters" a couple of pixels when you hold the pen stationary), expect so-so results. You probably know that when you play real pool, success depends on advance planning (strategy), estimating strike and rebound angles precisely (geometry), controlling the angle and speed of the cue stick exactly (physics), and smoothness of execution (hand-eye coordination). With Tablet Pool on a 10.4" screen, these factors are all even more critical, and the slightest movement makes a big difference. This is a very difficult game! -

Microsoft Visio
Visio is a business diagramming product. It's a member of the Microsoft Office family, so it's well integrated with other Office programs. For example, a list of Project tasks can be converted by Visio into a visual timeline, an organization chart can be generated from an Excel spreadsheet, and a software diagram can be generated from a Visual Studio project file. Of course Visio can also be used to create flowcharts, block diagrams, website maps, floor plans, directory diagrams, network diagrams and practically any general-purpose business diagram.

Because Visio is a member of the Office family, the Office XP Pack for Tablet PC (Tablet Pack) provides the basic "insert an ink drawing and writing area" capability for Visio. However, this is really only useful for reviewing and annotating existing Visio drawings. It doesn't help when creating new drawings. Of course, the enhanced mobility of the Tablet PC coupled with the ease of using a pen for drag-and-drop operations makes Visio especially useful in mobile applications that require on-the-spot drawing, such as building surveys, hospital bed management, insurance claims reporting and law enforcement.

Like with Office 11, Microsoft says that the next version of Visio will contain more features and user interface optimizations that explicitly support the Tablet PC. -

Parascript riteMail
RiteMail from Pen&Internet, a division of Parascript, is a tool for informal written communication. It's a mobile, multi-platform, interactive "inkmail" program. RiteMail allows you to exchange handwritten email messages in high-quality ink between handhelds, desktops, notebooks and Tablet PCs (or any computer with a pen and digitizer). Regardless of the platform used by the receiver, the ink email shows up exactly as you saw it on your machine. RiteMail wasn't designed or even enhanced specifically for the Tablet PC, but it's a natural fit.

RiteMail eliminates the need for on-screen keyboards or handwriting recognition, provides true language independence, and adds a personal touch to your emails and notes. RiteMail works with Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Mail and Eudora, as well as web-based email systems such as AOL Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and others. You can create or edit messages using a variety of ink colors, tools and widths. (However, if you use a very thin ink width that you can see clearly on the Tablet PC's high-resolution screen, it may not appear as clear or as dark if the receiver has a lower-resolution screen.) If you include a drawing in your email, riteMail's built-in riteShape feature can correct it for you, generating perfect circles, quadrangles, triangles, ovals, lines, arrows and other shapes from your rough approximations.

RiteMail was recently released in final form. After a long beta test, the program is in current use by over 10,000 users in over 70 countries, in more than 35 languages. At $29.95, with a 30-day trial version available, it's worth trying. You may find it somewhat addictive when used with wireless on your Tablet PC. -

SAP, headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, is the world's largest inter-enterprise software company and the world's third largest independent software vendor (ISV). SAP has 10 million users and 56,000 installations. SAP's is a collaborative e-business platform that allows employees, customers and business partners to work together successfully - anywhere, anytime. MySAP CRM (customer relationship management) is one of many cross-industry solutions within the e-business platform. The CRM solution provides companies with a variety of capabilities that span the entire customer interaction cycle in areas such as customer interaction (support) centers, campaign management, marketing analytics, sales, and service for ongoing customer interactions across all channels. MySAP CRM has more than 1,700 customers worldwide. In 2001, SAP generated CRM revenues of $433M, making it the number two CRM vendor worldwide. As a strongly field-oriented application, mySAP CRM leverages the enhanced mobility of the Tablet PC and standard features such as screen rotation and dictation and voice control (in a future release). In addition, SAP is enhancing the application in the following areas:
  • Handwriting recognition is enabled in data entry fields through pop-ups that eliminate the need to use the Input Panel
  • Searchable ink notes are supported for adding application-specific details; the notes function can exchange data with the Tablet PC's sticky notes
  • Ink annotation is enabled on embedded graphics (such as a photo of a damaged car)
  • Photos can be used as a "clickable map" (similar to a planagram) to retrieve associated detailed business information
  • Digital ink signatures are incorporated to ensure security in mobile commerce -
SpeechStudio Suite
SpeechStudio Suite is a collection of development tools and ActiveX controls that help programmers create voice-enabled applications using the Microsoft Speech API (SAPI v5, included in XP Tablet PC Edition). It works with Visual Basic, Visual C++ and other languages that support the use of ActiveX/COM components.

For developers, SpeechPlayer is the user interface component. It functions like a Windows manager for voice. It directs voice commands to the active window and handles chores such as prompt generation, grammar switching, command confirmation, and audio recording and playback. SpeechRunner is a testing and debugging tool. It uses audio files or a simulated speech engine to simulate a person speaking to the computer. Its scripting language can be used to create multi-modal or voice-only test scenarios. It includes tools for building tests, running test suites, and checking results. In general, developers can use SpeechStudio to extend the built-in capabilities of Windows XP Tablet to achieve better control of their voice interfaces and for additional features such as prompt generation, confirmation, audio recording and automated testing.

For end-users (speakers), SpeechStudio Profile Manager is used to manage voice profiles. A voice profile includes speaker training data as well as acoustic information. A typical Tablet PC user will have several profiles, e.g., in the office, in the car and at home. Profile Manager is used to create, train, copy, backup and restore voice profiles. SpeechStudio Lexicon Builder is used to extend the built-in speech-recognition dictionary. The Tablet PC dictionary contains around 64,000 words and it doesn't include proper names, company names, technical words or jargon. Users can extract words from existing documents or enter them directly. Lexicon Builder can also be used to provide correct pronunciations, for better speech recognition and text-to-speech. -

WebEx Meeting Service
WebEx is an interactive communications infrastructure company, providing "media tone" (communications services) for real-time online meetings. The content of meetings (who was there, what was discussed, results, action items, contributions, etc.) is often hard to capture; WebEx's Meeting Center client software makes it easier. WebEx isn't a "collaboration company" in the sense of Groove Networks; it simply provides tools for conducting efficient and productive real-time meetings over the Internet. In addition to basic meeting facilitation, the WebEx client allows sharing any Windows application (including Microsoft Journal). The shared application can also be controlled remotely, which enhances the effectiveness of live demos and team meetings. Video from a desktop camera or a VCR, DVD or camcorder can also be incorporated into a meeting.

The WebEx Meeting Service client has been enhanced to support digital ink in several ways. First, the client allows taking notes in digital ink during the meeting. The notes are currently designated as a "private" function for each attendee, so they can't be shared. Next, you can use handwriting recognition to enter chat text. Chat can be recorded during the meeting, which is an advantage over instant messaging. Then, while you are discussing a document or giving a presentation during a meeting, all of the Meeting Service client's normal annotation tools can be used with the pen (pen, highlighter, oval, square, line, arrow, check mark and X-mark). Finally, in the same context, you can use a "swipe" gesture to advance or back up a page.

Although WebEx is focused on medium to large enterprises (they have about 7,000 current customers), anyone can use the service by clicking on "Host a Pay-Per-Use Meeting" on their website. The cost is $0.45 per minute per user. -

Zinio Reader
Zinio was founded to create, in partnership with magazine publishers and advertisers, the first fully digital magazines. Focusing on e-magazines rather than e-books makes a lot of sense when you consider that it eliminates all the issues associated with long-term media storage. A magazine has value for a short time, and then it's gone. In addition, with a magazine, the format is a critical part of the publication, so accurate on-screen reproduction of the format has value. In contrast, the format of an e-book isn't critical - a Charles Dickens book is the same whether it's in 8 point Times Roman or 14 point Gothic. People also read magazines differently than they read books; a magazine read in "snacking" (random) style may be more suited to a computer than a book read in "cover-to-cover" (linear) style.

Zinio's reader is all about the experience of reading a branded magazine, not about software. That's why the first thing you see when you go to the Zinio website is 20 magazine covers and not much else. The reader user interface has been highly refined to be intuitive and non-intrusive. The reader is only part of the total Zinio system, however -- the other parts deal with creating digital versions of magazines, delivering them to subscribers, and supporting all types of circulation offers and research.

A magazine reader is a compelling enough Tablet PC application so that several of the Tablet PC OEMs are pre-installing the reader on their hardware (this includes HP and Fujitsu). The visual experience of reading a magazine on a Tablet PC with the Zinio reader has a surprisingly large impact. A 3D animation of page-turning, easy zooming in and out, hyperlinks for the table of contents and additional information, annotation, single-page and spread-page layouts, highlighting and gestures for page turning make for a visually compelling experience. With 160 million adult magazine readers in the US, over 50% of who access and use the Internet, Zinio is attacking a significant market.

The enhancements that Zinio made in the reader to support the Tablet PC include the following:

  • Automatic switch to single-page view when the Tablet PC is in portrait mode
  • Ink annotation, with the ability to forward marked-up magazines via email
  • Highlighting with the pen
  • Keyword search in ink
  • Support of Tablet PC hardware buttons and gestures for page-turning -


There are 27 different Tablet PC programs described in this article, and that's just the beginning! The following is the author's approach for assessing what's likely to be important in this list. First, separate the vertical applications from the horizontal applications. Vertical applications have been growing steadily for 10+ years on "traditional" pen tablets, and the Tablet PC can only accelerate that growth, not slow it down. That said, the total potential of all vertical markets combined is still less than that of the horizontal market.

Next, consider what categories of applications are most likely to make an impact on the way business is done in the enterprise. In the author's opinion, the top three categories are (1) review and annotation of Office documents, (2) collaboration in general, and (3) personal productivity (including note taking). Accordingly, the author believes that the most significant applications described in this article are as follows:

  • Adobe Acrobat, for Office document review and annotation
  • FranklinCovey TabletPlanner, for personal productivity
  • Groove Networks Workspace, for a solid collaboration platform
  • Microsoft Tablet Pack, for enabling digital ink in Office
Lastly, a "special mention of significance" should be made regarding Microsoft's speech recognition. This technology works so well and it's so integrated with the pen that the combination of pen and speech is likely to have a big impact in the next few years. -

Based in Silicon Valley, Geoff Walker is a consultant with Walker Mobile, LLC. Geoff has worked on the engineering and marketing of mobile computers since 1982 at GRiD Systems, Fujitsu Personal Systems (now Fujitsu PC) and Handspring. He can be contacted at

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