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In 2002, original equipment manufacturers' released the first tablet PCs designed to the Microsoft Tablet PC specification. This generation of Microsoft Tablet PCs were designed to run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, the Tablet PC version of Windows XP. This version of Microsoft Windows superseded Microsoft's earlier pen computing operating environment, Windows for Pen Computing 2.0. After releasing Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Microsoft designed the successive desktop computer versions of Windows, Windows Vista and Windows 7, to support pen computing intrinsically.
Following Windows for Pen Computing, Microsoft has been developing for tablets running Windows under the Microsoft Tablet PC name. According to a 2001 Microsoft definition of the term, "Microsoft Tablet PCs" are pen-based, fully functional x86 PCs with handwriting and voice recognition functionality. Tablet PCs use the same hardware as normal laptops but add support for pen input. For specialized support for pen input, Microsoft released Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Today there is no tablet specific version of Windows but instead support is built in to both Home and Business versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. Tablets running Windows get the added functionality of using the touchscreen for mouse input, hand writing recognition, and gesture support. Following Tablet PC, Microsoft announced the UMPC initiative in 2006 which brought Windows tablets to a smaller, touch-centric form factor. This was relaunched in 2010 as Slate PC, to promote tablets runningWindows 7, ahead of Apple's iPad launch. Slate PCs are expected to benefit from mobile hardware advances derived from the success of the netbooks.
While many tablet manufacturers are moving to the ARM architecture with lighter operating systems, Microsoft has stood firmly by Windows. Though Microsoft has Windows CE for ARM support it has kept its target market for the smartphone industry with Windows Mobile and the new Windows CE 6 based Windows Phone 7. Some manufacturers, however, still have shown prototypes of Windows CE-based tablets running a custom shell.
Booklet PCs are dual screen tablet computers that fold like a book. Typical booklet PCs are equipped with multi-touch screens and pen writing recognition abilities. They are designed to be used as digital day planners, internet surfing devices, project planners, music players, and displays for video, live TV, and e-reading.
Slate computers, which resemble writing slates, are tablet PCs without a dedicated keyboard. For text input, users rely on handwriting recognition via an active digitizer, touching an on-screen keyboard using fingertips or a stylus, or using an external keyboard that can usually be attached via a wireless or USB connection.
Tablet PCs typically incorporate small (8.4–14.1 inches/21–36 centimetres) LCD screens and have been popular in vertical markets such as health care, education, hospitality and field work. Applications for field work often need a tablet PC that has rugged specifications that ensure long life by resisting heat, humidity, and drop/vibration damage. This added focus on mobility and/or ruggedness often leads to eliminating moving parts that could raise vulnerability.
Convertible notebooks have a base body with an attached keyboard. They more closely resemble modern laptops, and are usually heavier and larger than slates.
Typically, the base of a convertible attaches to the display at one joint called a swivel hinge or rotating hinge. The joint allows the screen to rotate through 180° and fold down on top of the keyboard to provide a flat writing surface. This design, although the most common, creates a physical point of weakness on the notebook.
Some manufacturers have attempted to overcome these weak points. The Panasonic Toughbook 19, for example, is advertised as a more durable convertible notebook. One model by Acer (the TravelMate C210) has a sliding design in which the screen slides up from the slate-like position and locks into place to provide the laptop mode.
Convertibles are by far the most popular form factor of tablet PCs, because they still offer the keyboard and pointing device (usually a trackpad) of older notebooks, for users who do not use the touchscreen display as the primary input method.
Hybrids, coined by users of the HP/Compaq TC1000 and TC1100 series, share the features of the slate and convertible by using a detachable keyboard that operates similarly to a convertible when attached. Hybrids are not the same as slate models with detachable keyboards. Detachable keyboards for pure slate models do not rotate to allow the tablet to rest on it like a convertible.
Windows 7 touch ability is similar to Microsoft Surface technologies. This is a gesture and touch-centric UI enhancement that works with most current touch computers. Windows has a history of tablet technology including Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Tablet PC Edition is a superset of Windows XP Professional, the difference being tablet functionality, including alternate text input (Tablet PC Input Panel) and basic drivers for support of tablet PC specific hardware. Requirements to install Tablet PC Edition include a tablet digitizer or touchscreen device, and hardware control buttons including a Ctrl-Alt-Delete shortcut button, scrolling buttons, and at least one user-configurable application button.
A few select high schools in the US use tablet PCs for every student. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP includes Tablet PC Edition 2005 and is a free upgrade. This version brought improved handwriting recognition and improved the Input Panel, allowing it to be used in almost every application. The Input Panel was also revised to extend speech recognition services (input and correction) to other applications.With the succession of Windows Vista, the Tablet PC functionality no longer needed a separate edition. Tablet PC support is built into all editions of Windows Vista with the exception of Home Basic and Starter editions. This extends the handwriting recognition, ink collection, and additional input methods to any computer running Vista even if the input device is an external digitizer, a touch screen, or even a regular mouse. Vista also supports multi-touch functions and gestures (originally developed for the Microsoft Surface version of Vista) and is now usable by the public with the release of multi-touch tablets.
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