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My Tablet PC coming-out story

Filed in: consumerism, tech, Thu, Sep 8 2005 14:13 PT

Those of you who saw me at the Podcast Hotel yesterday may have noticed something different. Hopefully it wasn’t the thinning hair, but rather the little piece of technology I was scribbling furiously into during the session.

Yes, I’m Matt May, and for the last six days I’ve been a Tablet PC user.

I needed to have a PC in the house to do development in .NET and testing on IE for Windows. Since my old Vaio is just broken enough not to be able to update the BIOS so it can run XP, that wasn’t an option. (It’s now running Fedora Core 4.) I could connect to my main server from my PowerBook using Remote Desktop Connection, but that’s no good for heavy work outside of the house, so I started looking for other options.

Once I decided I needed a new laptop, it was easy to make the jump to the tablets. After all, I already have a brand-new PowerBook, so if I’m getting a new machine, it had better be a multitasker. (I learned that from Alton Brown.) I also wanted a shock of features that weren’t available together in any entry-level laptops. And I wanted a display that didn’t make me want to tear my eyes out, as most PC laptops do. The tablets were among the only machines out there with good resolution, small size, and lots of what I wanted, and plus, I can can scribble on the screen, which is way more fun than it should be.

For a smoking $1119 at eCost, I bought a Toshiba M200, which has a 1.7GHz Centrino, 12.1″ 1400×1050 display, 512MB RAM, 60GB of disk, 802.11g, Bluetooth, and an SD slot (which is just one more excuse to upgrade my camera and go 100% SD in the near future). With no internal optical drive, I’m finding that the only thing I’m really missing is FireWire, because I already have a FireWire CD-RW drive, along with other accessories. A $30 or $40 PCMCIA card should fix that. These go for $1500 and up on eBay, and are about $2000 new, so I’m really happy I found it.

This has been the first business trip I’ve taken in seven years without a Mac in tow. It’s sad to say, but I almost didn’t miss it. Firefox, for one, is much more responsive in Windows than on OS X. I’ve recently become frustrated with Thunderbird and moved back to on the PowerBook, so I’m dealing with Thunderbird again on the PC. I miss Adium, but Trillian is cool enough. I also have yet to discover an RSS aggregator or podcatcher that holds a candle to NetNewsWire, so I’m getting by with poor facsimiles thereof. And I’ll need to install Cygwin and/or CoLinux to make up for the utter lack of usefulness that is the XP command line.

Here was my oh-my-god moment with the tablet: I had to send a form off to a client the other day, so I took the fax I received in PDF format from my fax-to-email gateway, opened it up in PDF Annotator, wrote my information directly onto the form, saved it, and sent it back. Without the tablet, that process goes print, scribble, scan, email, or print, scribble, walk to Kinko’s. That was so sweet. I really can’t wait to do some design work directly to the screen. It’s that much fun.

When this contract is over, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll go back to the Mac for most of my work after this project, but I think I’ll still be using the tablet more or less every day. Most likely, I’ll do all my work (except drawing) on the PowerBook, and all my personal browsing and other playing around on the tablet. I’m working on my work-life separation these days, anyway. (Maybe I’ll even — gasp! — play games.) It’s also the portable media device for the house, especially since it can be flipped and tilted so it looks almost like a TV. In fact, I have a picture of the tablet running live TV via VLC, and I’ll go into some more detail on how I have that hooked up another time.

(Sidebar: the M200 is excessively stickerized. When I took it out of the box, it had stickers for: where to buy accessories; where to buy support; Windows XP; Centrino; nVidia G-Force FX; Wacom; EnergyStar; the XP license key; wireless MAC address; Ethernet MAC address; a Chinese QA approval; two for standards compliance; a battery-recycling warning; an excessive heat warning; two to denote that it’s reconditioned; one that shows the specs; and one warning me not to turn the display in the wrong direction. Too much noise. I’m stripping them one by one.)

6 responses to “My Tablet PC coming-out story”

  1. Bam says:

    I may get way more information than I bargained for, but I still have to ask: What’s your beef against Thunderbird? It’s the first non-Outlook client that I’ve used since my PINE days, so I’m still in blissful ignorance.

  2. admin says:

    The biggest problem that I have with Thunderbird is its scroll ordering in the mail list. When you’re in Outlook or Outlook Express and you delete a message, irrespective of whether you read it top-down or bottom-up, it will go to the next most recent message. Thunderbird only goes one way: from the top down.

    So I have to flip the order so it does it right. No biggie. But then, when new messages come in, Thunderbird doesn’t auto-scroll so they’re visible. Outlook and OE do that, as well. These are very minor features, but they have been left out of so many releases that I don’t hold out much hope for seeing them. I’m using Thunderbird 1.5 beta right now, and its behavior is the same. Kind of a bummer.

    There’s other stuff, but they’d be much closer to usable if they would just fix these two things.

  3. goodwitch says:

    (reaching out to caress your fabulous new technology…don’t worry…i’ve always been overly attacted to shiny objects with batteries)

    matt, last time I tested a tablet pc for 4 weeks in december 2003…i found the experience to be novel, but not addictive. it was an early model from motion computing. the os was still a bit sluggish. the voice recognition a bit cranky. most of all, i found the unit to be smokin’ hot! the battery generated so much heat that i didn’t want to the hold the damn thing.

    so…my question to you is…i know your new tablet is “hot” (as in amazing) but is it “hot” (as in caliente)?

  4. admin says:

    Not really. It has a vent in the back (which, when you hold it in your left hand, blows away from your body), and in laptop mode, its feet give it enough clearance not to be a blast furnace. It’s not as hot as my PowerBook, to be sure.

  5. Great to see you enjoying your tablet pc. I agree – the m200 is a walking billboard. However, you can’t beat the notetaking aspect of a tablet pc. It really does streamline the entire workflow process.

    For annotating and signing pdf’s, give PDF Annotator a try ( ) – get the beta.

    If you work in Outlook on your tablet pc – you have to give TabletOutlook a whirl ( ). It provides a complete inking environment for Outlook. They are coming out with version 3.0 by the end of the year and I’ve heard that if you purchase it now that the upgrade to 3.0 will be free.

    Come on Apple – bring on that iTablet.

    Rob Bushway
    Tablet PC MVP

  6. Hey, got a question about your blog. I noticed it loads pages lot faster than mine. Do you host your blog on dedicated server? thanks.

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