The Future of the Tablet PC (does it have one?)

Reading a post by Loren Heiny, Will the Tablet PC find a new advocate?, got me thinking (again) about the future of the Table PC – more worrying about whether the Tablet even has a future. I am worried that because of the complete mess Microsoft has made of marketing the tablet platform, without Bill’s continued visible support behind it, the Tablet will either disappear, or be relegated to a very narrow niche product.

I think I have mentioned (over and over) that I am a big fan of the Tablet PC. I think that in many respects it is far more innovative than anything to come out of Apple in the last 10 years or so. And in terms of the industry as a whole, it has opened up both a hardware and potential software market well beyond Microsoft (take note of that all you Apple fans – what has the ultimate closed source community at Apple produced that has benefited any business other than Apple?).

The problem now, of course, is that the Tablet is old news. It is 5 years old, has not lived up to early predictions that soon “every laptop sold will be a Tablet” (though in real terms has been reasonably successful), there is a shortage of really “tablet specific” or even “tablet aware” applications (notable exceptions of course are OneNote and MindJet MindManager). It has really missed the boat on the hype cycle it could have generated. And now, the primary champion of the platform, Bill himself, is no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft.

So, whither the Tablet PC? Loren makes a number of good points in the referenced article – and I will not repeat them here (hey, go read the original!). I agree whole-heartedly that the fact that those of us who support the Tablet PC have our work cut out for us if the momentum is to be maintained. I have been looking for projections about the size and growth of the Tablet PC market, but doing a Google search I do not see anything that is newer than about 2004. Are there any more current projections out there?

Another thought I had, beyond Loren’s observations, is around open source and the Tablet PC. The hardware specifications for the Tablet are fairly well defined. Unfortunately, the only software that supports it is Windows (not that I dislike Windows, but it means the entire Tablet PC industry is at the mercy of Microsoft’s decsions about continuing the platform). how about some of these really innovation open source types take the Tablet PC to new heights? Lets create a Linux-based (or not) OS, put a novel, Tablet-specific UI on it, and drive the Tablet market in that way? I know there are people out there who have put Linux on the Tablets, but I am talking more than just getting so it doesn’t crash, and works like a laptop with a funny shaped mouse. Something that really IS a Tablet computer. That would be a really innovative use of Open Source!

Thoughts?   

Open XML versus ODF, Part III

Well, since I did not receive any pointers to more analyses from my last post, I went searching on my own (doing the work myself always being a last resort!) I have found a number of articles which were very informative and seemed well put together. I am still reading and re-reading some of them, so my opinions my changed, but they all seem to be at least thoughtful analyses.

ODF/OOXML technical white paper has a fairly detailed analysis, though from the outset the author admits that the underlying philosophy of the paper is

“We are of the view that the format appears to be designed by Microsoft for Microsoft products, and to inter-operate with the Microsoft environment. Little thought appears to have been exercised regarding interoperability with non-Microsoft environments or compliance with established vendor-neutral standards [11].”

This seems to be an underlying theme of most of the articles – to start with the purpose of showing “why ODF is good and Open XML is bad”, as opposed to being purely unbiased form the start. This paper appears to be relatively fair in its analysis, however.

I also stumbled across a number of articles related to errors in the spreadsheet formula portion of the OOXML documentation, such as Microsoft OOXML spec ‘dangerously flawed’. While I would agree that these flaws (if they exist – I have not searched for them, but I beleive they do) are important, you do not through out a proposed standard because of flaws like this, you fix them and move on. I would be relatively surprised if a 6000-page document did not contain any errors. I would see this as an argument against fast-tracking standardization, but not for throwing the Open XML specification out altogether.

Then there are the documents presented on http://www.noooxml.org/arguments. While I am sure there are some great documents on this site, for my purposes I excluded them from the outset, since the site is obviously biased. For similar reasons, I did not go searching around Microsoft’s web site, or Microsoft Blog’s for information supporting Open XML.

The wiki at http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_objections maintains a substantial list of concerns with the Open XML specification. There are concerns in there with which I agree, and others with which I do not. It, also, starts from the premise that “Open XML is bad”, and so is not really an unbiased analysis.

One thing that struck me as interesting, is that outside of the purely Microsoft sphere of influence (the Microsoft web site, Microsoft blogs, etc.), I came across no information presented from a Microsoft perspective, or analyzing why Open XML is better or as-good-as ODF. It seems the Microsoft camp is focusing purely on “we would like to get this specification standardized”, rather than attacking the alternative.

This leads to the question, isn’t that the correct approach? Let the Open XML specification be standardized (with identified “real” problems fixed, and let Darwinism decide which format survives?  (I can hear the Open Source community crying already!)

But, isn’t that what having alternatives is all about?

"3D" browsing and searching

Came across a post today called Exploring the 3D Search, about an application called SpaceTime (www.spacetime.com). It is a browser and search front end, which presents the results in a 3D “stack”, and allows you to scroll through them in that way.

While I like the initiative of trying a new visual approach, as I have discussed previously, this is really just another way of presenting a list. It is a start, but still not what I am looking for in a really new, “next generation” search visualization.

It is definitely worth checking out, though.