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Dream tablet

Jan 06, 20033 mins
MicrosoftNetwork Security

2003. Wow. I can re-member being about 8 years old and working out how old I’d be in 2000. Now 2000 has shot past and here we are, with three years of the naughties behind us.

So, what would I like to see from this new year? Well, let’s skip the obvious (the Dow back to 10,000 and Nasdaq beyond 2,000, Saddam out of the way and ABC’s assurance that there will never be another series of “The Bachelor”) and think about the IT industry.

Of course, I’ve got my fingers crossed for an upswing in IT expenditure and recruitment, but again, those are pretty obvious things.

I’ll tell you one thing I’d really like to see appear this year – a real tablet computer. I’ve toyed with the latest crop of these devices, and while I like a lot of what I see, the vendors playing in this market haven’t cracked the magic formula yet.

The magic formula would be a device that would be useful and practical in a way that PDAs such as the Palm and my favorite, the Sharp Zaurus, only manage to brush against.

To begin with, the magic tablet would be truly pencentric rather than the pen-interface-but-sometimes-you-really-need-a-keyboard version of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

Now to give Microsoft its due, the company has managed to kick-start a market that has been moribund for years: the pen computing market.

It was ripe for resurrection but how did Microsoft do it when others have made little headway? Simple, Microsoft bullied the market into existence.This was easy because Microsoft effectively sets the agenda for so many of its licensees. If you are Compaq or Sharp the appeal of building a tablet-style machine was minimal until Microsoft validated the idea by producing XP Tablet Edition.

It makes sense that Microsoft would want to get into this market. For all intents and purposes it owns the desktop operating-system market, and to maintain growth it needs to own and drive the next big thing. Wi-Fi hasn’t been that thing for Microsoft and neither were a number of other technologies. But tablet-based machines have huge potential.

So is Microsoft’s operating system for this market, XP Tablet Edition, better than previous pen-based operating systems? No. But it is better-promoted, and it is offered by the biggest gorilla in the game. That guarantees that vendors will jump on board.

But we have yet to see a real tablet machine. “What,” you might be asking, “would such a tablet look like?” Simple – there are only five factors to get right.

Price: Less than $1,000 for business and less than $500 for consumers.

Weight: Not much more than a hardcover book – these things have to be truly portable.

Networking: 802.11a and 802.11b and 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet built-in.

Battery life: At least eight hours, 12 preferred.

Design: Truly pencentric. Instant on, instant off and instant reboot. An unbreakable screen and expansion slots that don’t interfere with your grip. A screen that is viewable in daylight. Coffee-proof and peanut-butter-proof. Capable of surviving a fall from six feet onto concrete. And finally, a practical pen user interface.

And the biggest factor of all: When you write on the device, it must feel natural. I want the kind of drag I feel on paper under my stylus, otherwise I can’t write easily.

That’s it, a simple list. I challenge any vendor to show me a tablet machine that meets even 80% of these criteria. Should a vendor show me anything more than 90%, then Christmas 2003 will have come early!

Take a tablet and call me at


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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