I’m definitely a big fan of the Tablet PC concept. Both of the UMPCs that I have used as my primary laptop computers over the last few years have had touch-screens and Tablet capabilities, so I am very aware of the value of those features. I suspect it to be a feature that I will look for whenever I purchase laptops or UMPCs for myself going forward.
As useful as Tablet PC functions are, I also know that they haven’t really caught on all that widely. It still isn’t a top-priority for most people when picking out a laptop and the number of models that feature it are still fairly low. I do think they are starting to become a bit more mainstream thanks to the sudden surge in popularity for touchscreens in the wake of the iPhone, but there is still quite a way to go.
This has led to a justifiable paranoia within the Tablet PC user community about the future of the feature. While I do think it is a concern that is based in reality, it also can result in some occasional major over-reactions. The case in point was a posting by lead engineer Steven Sinofsky on Microsoft’s Windows 7 Developer’s Blog that included the following quote during a discussion of features being considered for modularity:
Some examples are quite easy to see and you should expect us to do more along these lines, such as the TabletPC components. I have a PC that is a very small laptop and while it has full tablet functionality it isn’t the best size for doing good ink work for me (I prefer a 12.1” or greater and this PC is a 10” screen). The tablet code does have a footprint in memory and on the 1GB machine if I go and remove the tablet components the machine does perform better.
This is a basically harmless, and completely reasonable, statement. Certainly, there is no reason to have the Tablet PC components in place on a computer that doesn’t need them. Obviously, this should apply if the necessary hardware (a touch-screen or active digitizer) isn’t present, but I can understand Sinofsky’s point that one might even want to remove all or some of the features when you do have the hardware. To be honest, I don’t really use the inking features on my Vye S37. The screen real-estate is very small and the touch digitizer just isn’t overly well suited for it. I love having the touch screen as a navigational tool, but that doesn’t really require that all the other Tablet features be active.
Sinofsky’s fairly mild comment generated a minor uproar in the Tablet community, in what generally struck me as a knee-jerk reaction. This quote generated rather intense responses from very communitybloggers such as Lauren Heiny and James Kendrick, among others. Both Heiny and Kendrick are bloggers that I respect very much and their articles are worth reading, as are the rather varied and sometimes heated responses in their comment sections. Sinofsky even responded directly in the comments section of Heiny’s article, basically saying that he was reading too much into it.
I’m not going to rehash those articles or the responses (I do recommend going and reading through them) here as the discussions do go down an interesting path. The one point I really want to comment on is that I worry that this reaction might be falling a bit into "boy who cried wolf" territory. At their root, these articles responding to Sinofsky’s posting seemed to be keying off of a concern that the Tablet features may be deemed unnecessary and ultimately dropped from later versions of the OS. The problem is that Sinofsky never even remotely hinted at that in his statements. He wasn’t talking about features that can or should be cut from the OS and he never said that the Tablet features weren’t useful. He simply, and rightfully, pointed out that usage scenarios vary and Windows should be flexible enough to adapt.
I think that evangelism of the value of Tablet PC features is something that is still needed, but I worry that the message can be blunted some by overreacting to what should be pretty much non-controversial statements. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen prominent members of the Tablet PC community go on the defensive like this and I tend to think this kind of thing is a lot less useful than articles that work hard to explain the value of the features.