Microsoft Interviews Galore

I was at Microsoft all day yesterday interviewing various teams for an upcoming series of articles. Although I’m still sifting through the piles of information, there are a couple of interesting notes…

I spoke with Cory Linton, Product Manager for the Tablet PC group. He showed me a number of new and upcoming TabletPC hardware, including some 3rd generation stuff that I can’t talk about yet… but there is some stuff I can talk about. The Toshiba M200, for example, has a beautiful 12.1” screen that displays 1400x1050 resolution, as well as a nifty accelerometer that automatically detects the orientation of the machine, and adjusts screen orientation automatically. Another machine he demonstrated was a Gateway (I’ll have to refer to my notes for the model number) that had an enormous (for a Tablet) 14” screen… but it was only 1024x768 resolution– very disappointing. Clearly, this is the Ford Excursion of the TabletPC marketplace: huge, heavy, and inefficient. However, it did have one feature that the Tablet PC community has been clamoring for: an internal optical drive. Cory also mentioned “ongoing discussions with IBM, Dell, and Sony” all of whom are notably absent from the TabletPC OEM list. Cory also talked about the upcoming “Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2004” (previously codenamed “Lonestar”) which I am already running on my Tablet PC. The new version focuses primarily on improving the ink-to-text experience, and truly does represent an enormous improvement. He revealed that they have already completed work on this new edition– it is just waiting for the Windows team to finish up Service Pack 2. Excellent news for Tablet enthusiasts. Among some promising statistics (70,000 Tablet PC developers, 250,000 SDK downloads, and 1500 registered users of the Lonestar beta) was a mention about a new driver from Wacom that allows the Tablet PC’s screen digitizer to be seen by software as if it were a traditional external digitizer (like the Wacom tablets common is graphic design.) This allows you to use a tablet more effectively with software, like Photoshop, that are optimized for use with external digitizers. Good news, and it is a free download from the Wacom site. Finally, he talked about the ongoing series of Tablet PC developer contests– the latest of which includes a $100,000 grand prize. More on this later.

I also spoke to Chris Pratley from the OneNote team, but I can’t really discuss the contents of this discussion yet. I promise– as soon as I’m allowed to, I’ll post a full report: there’s big news here. Speaking of Chris, he has an excellent blog where he talks about the process of developing an application like OneNote. If you haven’t already, you should check it out.

I also spent some time touring the Longhorn Usability Labs, where they are testing the upcoming version of Windows on normal, everyday people to see how people react to new user interface ideas. We also spoke to some people there, which was excellent– it was fascinating to see how they approach this problem so scientifically. They have full-time anthropologists and ethnographers on staff that quantify usability using some surprising techniques. Expect to see a long-form article soon.

I also spent some time with some folks from the Windows Mobile team, who were excitedly celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Compact Framework, which is gaining fast in popularity. (One example of this: the compact framework newsgroup was the 5th most trafficked newsgroup last month!) They have also announced the 2.0 version of the framework, which will coincide with the release of Visual Studio.NET 2005 and focuses on improving performance, developer productivity, and extensibility. He also showed a number of new form-factors. This is an exciting space where Microsoft is playing the underdog to Palm (although some numbers show them as leading in Asia and European markets.) It’s forcing them be unusually innovative, and some of the new features and devices show that they’re taking the market seriously. Good stuff.

There’s more I could talk about (I also spoke with people on the Visual Studio and SQL Server teams) but this post is already pretty long. Stay tuned for more details on the main Small Biz Advisor site.