Adios Tablet PC, How I Will Miss Thee
Let me begin by saying that I absolutely love the Tablet PC form factor and the Inking experience. There is nothing more intuitive than picking up a pen and interacting with a digital interface (short of touch but that falls short when you want to write something down). If you don’t believe me, put a normal PC with a mouse and a Tablet PC with a pen in front of a three-year-old and watch what happens. They’ll have a masterpiece drawn in fourteen different colors on the Tablet before they ever get the hang of left clicking that mouse.
That being said, I have been forced to bid the Tablet PC adieu. While the Ink experience may be intuitive, easy to learn, convenient and even productivity enhancing (I am so going to miss sketching out quick architecture diagrams in OneNote), Tablet PC OEM vendors are complete morons. For some reason, geniuses at all of the major OEM’s – including Dell, Toshiba, Fujitsu, HP, Asus, and all the rest – have decided amongst themselves that only college students with limited productivity requirements want or need a Tablet PC. They have collectively determined that innovation in this sector is completely out of the question and that only low-powered glorified notepads will sell in the marketplace. To you, Mr. 1.2GHz-and-One-Gigbyte-of-RAM-Should-Be-More-Than-Enough-for-Dumbasses-Who-Buy-Our-Products corporate marketing guy, I give you a one-fingered Texas salute.
One the one hand, we have Apple, who can make a decently performing machine that’s half an inch thick with a 13.3 inch screen (although lacking any useful ports whatsoever), and on the other the buttheads at HP who think that a 12.1" glossy display in a 2" thick monstrosity that weighs 6 pounds and lasts 2.5 hours on a charge is conducive to written input. How many idiots in R&D got paid big bucks to come to that stunningly idiotic conclusion? Dell can figure out how to make a thin convertible tablet but can’t manage to add a super-slim optical drive or a processor that can actually do anything besides run Outlook (on a very good day)? How many years did they spend developing the XT? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
But worst of all by far is the lack of 64-bit support from Tablet PC OEMs. This is 2008 not 1998 – x64 ain’t just for servers anymore. Even Microsoft, despite their many shortcomings and foibles, is smart enough to include full pen support in Windows Server 2008. In fact, I can begin to understand Bill Gates’ frustration in his retirement interviews when he talks about the missed opportunities for natural interfaces. It must make him scream in agony to see all the work Microsoft has put into inking be foiled by the boneheads that sell PC hardware.
Just in case anybody still cares, the reason that Tablet PC’s haven’t taken off is because the corporate screwups at these manufacturers have never asked real users what they want. If they had, they would realize that we want the XT form factor (with at least a 13.3" display option – ferchrissakes we don’t want to go blind squinting at the thing) with full PC functionality – fast processors, lots of RAM, big hard drives, good battery life, comfortable weight. By all that’s good and holy, if the hippies in Cupertino can fit a 15" top-of-the-line PC into a 1" form factor that only weighs 5 pounds somebody ought to be able to figure this out. Oh, and by the way, making us lug around "portable" slice batteries is stupid beyond all comprehension; if we wanted to do that, we wouldn’t be asking for something thin, now would we? And if I ever get a hold of the living brain donor at HP who thinks that glossy screens and inking go together I’m going to run him over in my truck and gut him like a deer.
So what now? After trying four different tablets over the last two years, I am retiring from the inking scene and returning to a boring old notebook. What good does scribbling on the screen do if I can’t even run Virtual PC effectively, much less Server ’08 with Hyper-V? I may still carry a small USB tablet pad with me for sketches and diagrams on the fly but I won’t come back to convertibles until at least one of the manufacturer’s gets their head out of their you-know-what. Not that they care, since they don’t talk to users of their products in the first place.
Just to show you how far I’ve come in my quest to do my job without interference from technology, you will find me toting a shiny new Macbook Pro with me from now on. Personally, I blame AC and Spence for talking me into buying an accursed Cupertino Fruit Machine (I’m sure the Redneck Technology Council will be notifying me any day now of my explusion from the Bubba Club). I could have gone with a new ThinkPad but, as AC pointed out while he was here in Dallas recently, you can get all the specs of the MBP in a classic Wintel machine, you just can’t get them all in a five pound, one-inch thick package that you can actually use while seated in steerage (that’s Coach Class for you non-Road Warriors). You win, AC – I have been converted.
So I will have to be content with looking on wistfully as my former Tableteer compatriots continue to doodle, sketch, point, and ink their way into the future. My only consolation will be that I can finally get some real work done for a change without cursing another sputtering VM. So long, Tablet PC. You were a slow, untrustworthy and frustrating friend, but I will miss you nonetheless.
Now, back to running Visual Studio on multiple MOSS VM’s in Hyper-V at warp speed. I’m feeling better already…