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A sneak peek at Microsoft's tablet PC


By Michael Mechanic

(IDG) -- With Microsoft's new tablet PC not due to ship for another year, company execs fight for use of 75 or so functioning prototypes. Bert Keely, a slight fellow with the cryptic title of "architect," is one of the lucky winners -- and he's eager to show it off.

The tablet cradled on Keely's forearm is less than an inch thick -- though at three pounds it's heavier than it looks. Inside is a 600-MHz Transmeta chip, 6GB hard drive and 128MB of memory. Keely calls that configuration a "worst-case scenario." When they ship, he says, the tablets will be both lighter and more powerful. Like a high-end laptop, the device has a built-in modem and Ethernet hookups, and it can tap into local wireless networks via plug-in PC cards. INFOCENTER
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When Keely taps the display twice with a plastic pen, it wakes up, showing standard Windows file-folder icons scattered over a Martian landscape. He starts showing off its note-taking abilities. Anyone who has signed digitally for a UPS package knows the sorry state of current handwriting software. Microsoft has made impressive progress on this front. Though scrawling on a hard surface feels odd, your words look almost as good on screen as they do on paper. They're stored as graphics, which you can then erase, highlight, annotate, boldface, italicize, cut, copy, paste and even search.

Keely claims that Microsoft's handwriting-recognition technology sets a new standard for accuracy. Current software successfully recognizes 60 percent to 90 percent of the words users write; Keely says Microsoft's should be in the 90-plus range. The Microsoft software will also let you preview converted text and tap on mistranslated words to get a menu of replacement possibilities. Keely shows me a 15-page report he converted from longhand. There's just one catch: The tablet, like your third-grade teacher, demands near-perfect penmanship.

• Microsoft

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