Tablet PC in the Longhorn Timeframe: Part II

Microsoft’s Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) was, to me, pretty much a bust, except for one truly exceptional presentation by Matti Suokko, which focused on Microsoft’s strategy for Tablet PC in the Longhorn timeframe. I’d like to share with you some of the revelations from this presentation.

It is largely assumed that there will be no SKU for Longhorn Tablet PC Edition– most likely, the features will simply be integrated into the overall OS. (Although there is talk of a “mobile edition” perhaps. My point, though, is that there will probably not be an OS SKU distinction between tablets and traditional laptops in the Longhorn timeframe.) What this means is that much of the changes that were discussed by Microsoft at WinHEC will not be specific to the Tablet PC, and will be shared with laptop users.

This is good news for Tablet users: as Microsoft blurs the line between tablets and notebooks everybody wins: notebook users gain access to more features, and tablet users will see more innovation as their favorite platform becomes more mainstream. This was evident in today’s presentation, as the number of new and improved features that were on display were truly staggering.

First, a caveat: because of the early stage of development that this stuff is in right now, Microsoft was not willing to share the slide decks with the press like they did with the rest of the slide decks from the show. However, we were able to surreptitiously snap a few pictures throughout the presentation. These won’t be pretty, but at least they will be enough to illustrate what I’m talking about.

The first thing that was discussed was the pillars of mobile computing that the Longhorn mobile team is targeting: computing should be mobile, connected, productive, and media-ready. Despite the overused “pillar” metaphor, it’s clear that they are taking these concepts to heart.

The first thing that was demonstrated was the Mobile Activity Center. (For more about Activity Centers, check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent technology showcase.) The idea behind this is to consolidate the many features that need to be enabled, disabled, or configured as a user travels or moves from location to location—things like power management, taking resources on and offline, doing presentations, etc. (click on the screenshots for larger images.)

Next, Matti talked about improvements to multimonitor support, including the new ability to project just a specific window to an external monitor or projector. Notice in the screenshot that the infamous Longhorn “sidebar” is displayed at the bottom of the screen in portrait mode, which is something I had be curious about.

The big news (at least for me) was that they are working to support “auxiliary” displays, which could be used to display PIM data while a computer is turned off or closed. These are a huge benefit to tablet (and laptop) users, as one of the big complaints I (and others) have had with the platform is that the lack of true “instant on” capability makes it tough to use the tablet as a PDA alternative.

I’m off to the WinHEC party at the Experience Music Project– More to come later tonight…