Q&A: The .NET Vision and the Tablet PC

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 11, 2003 — The Microsoft Tablet PC Software Development Kit (SDK) version 1.5 was released today at VSLive!, the annual conference for software developers using Microsoft’s Visual Studio development system. The new SDK contains two new features that make it easier for developers to integrate the Tablet PC’s technology into new or existing applications. The updated SDK includes an enhanced ink-analysis technology that classifies and groups strokes into different structural elements to enable handwriting and drawing analysis from a single inking surface. It also includes a pen input panel control that makes it very easy to add handwriting recognition capabilities to any text box on new or existing applications.

All the application program interfaces (APIs) in the new Tablet PC SDK 1.5 are available as managed code through the .NET Framework, facilitating quick and easy development of stable applications, or as native code COM objects-meaning developers can use C#, VB.NET, VB, or C++. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is the first Microsoft operating system to be released with the Microsoft .NET Framework installed by default, making it one of the most advanced development platforms available today. Press Pass asked Vic Gundotra , general manager of Platform Strategy, and Alex Gounares , lead architect for the Tablet PC, to share their perspectives.

PressPass: Why is it noteworthy that the Tablet PC is built on the .NET Framework?

Gundotra: The Tablet PC is a significant milestone for Microsoft in part because it represents the first release of a Windows platform that has the .NET Framework built in. To understand why this is exciting, perhaps it is worthwhile to step back and talk about the .NET vision. At a very simple level, .NET is a platform for providing connectivity between systems. That may sound really simplistic. But integrating systems within and between businesses, and between businesses and their customers, is extremely expensive and very difficult from a programming viewpoint. Using a set of standards called XML Web Services, the .NET Framework helps simplify and reduce the cost of connecting disparate systems and enables them to work together. The Tablet PC is viewed as a flagship .NET-enabled client because the .NET Framework technology is part of the operating system. This makes it the optimal computing device to deploy for a mobile workforce.

Gounares: It’s significant that Tablet PC includes the .NET Framework because both technologies are about enabling new scenarios and capabilities for customers. The Tablet PC is a mobile form factor that opens up new user scenarios, from how office workers utilize their PC’s in more places to how law enforcement agencies now have a complete PC with them at all times. The .NET Framework enhances the connections between systems by using XML to supply business logic and enable data transfer.

PressPass: Why is a built-in .NET infrastructure important to Tablet PC users?

Gundotra: Today, you can install the .NET Framework on individual computers, but it requires some additional steps. But if you purchase Tablet PCs for your sales force, because Tablet PC was built to use the .NET Framework, each machine has the .NET-connected capability already integrated. All the benefits of the .NET infrastructure are available out of the box.

Gounares: The Tablet PC represents the culmination of several state-of-the-art technologies. It has the best and newest Microsoft operating system technology with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. It provides a more natural computing experience with digital inking and handwriting recognition technology. And it has the best development technology with the .NET Framework. With the Tablet PC, there is no compromise in the user experience, nor in the tools and the functionality available in the development environment.

PressPass: Why is this a benefit?

Gundotra: Let’s say a company has a wide deployment of Tablet PCs. If IT managers want to deploy a custom Tablet PC application, the deployment is very simple using the .NET Framework. The framework gives you a simple, Web-like deployment with the richness associated with traditional Windows applications. After building a Windows-based application using the .NET Framework, you simply place the application on a Web server and point users’ Tablet PCs to it. The Tablet PCs automatically download the application, and the application starts running. It’s zero-touch deployment.

Gounares: Using handwritten text for data input or marking up images will become a critical functionality of many horizontal and vertical applications, and deploying these applications is very simple using the .NET Framework. An insurance company may choose to build applications for the Tablet PC that provide on-screen claims forms that can be filled out with handwriting, and allow agents to add digital photos to the form, then use digital ink to indicate accident damage on the screen image. Building and deploying these customized applications — and enabling them to be sent wirelessly — is very simple using the .NET Framework

PressPass: How does it benefit developers that the Tablet PC has the .NET Framework built in?

Gundotra: The .NET Framework makes software development easier and less expensive. Developers are incredibly enthusiastic about the ease and elegance of programming using the .NET Framework class libraries. Not only is it easier to write applications using these libraries, but this functionality is available to all levels of programmers. Because the .NET Framework supports virtually all programming languages, from Visual Basic to C++, all programmers in your organization can target the same programming libraries. This means less cost to the organization as well as faster software development because it increases and equalizes productivity across development teams.

Gounares: With the Tablet PC, we really capitalized on the ease of developing applications using the .NET Framework. All the features of the platform — such as support for inking — are available through any of the languages designed for the .NET Framework. To add inking support to an application built on the .NET Framework requires as few as two lines of code. One hundred percent of Tablet PC platform features are available to all programmers using the .NET Framework.

PressPass: How does the Tablet PC’s pen-based computing model fit within Microsoft’s .NET strategy?

Gundotra: The Tablet PC is tremendously innovative because of inking, the system’s natural pen-driven input mechanism. This is important to Tablet PC users, because there are many circumstances where pen-based input is more natural and effective than keyboard input. But it’s important to recognize that the Tablet PC also influences the people around the user of the Tablet PC. When you take out a traditional laptop in a meeting and start typing away as your customer talks, you create a certain amount of distraction. You can improve the customer experience when you look the customer in the eye and take notes with a pen. That’s just one of many situations in which it may be socially inappropriate or unacceptable to be typing away on a notebook PC.

The Tablet PC expands how and where it is convenient and appropriate to compute, which is among the .NET goals. Tablet PCs combine the power of computing with the convenience and naturalness of note-taking. Previously, mobile computing had mostly to do with the size of the form factor. With the Tablet PC, the data input system is equally important.

Gounares: The Tablet PC offers a more natural computing interface. Because of its form factor and the ability to accept both pen and voice input, the Tablet PC is a lot more comfortable and natural to use. Therefore, it makes the computing experience more broadly useful and valuable.

PressPass: How does the Tablet PC further the .NET vision?

Gundotra: The .NET vision is about connecting systems, and a large part of that strategy involves integration with mobile devices. The .NET philosophy holds that as technology matures, more and more innovation develops at the edges of the network. In fact, as connections between systems and across networks get simpler and more powerful with devices like the Tablet PC, the whole notion of a network’s “edge” becomes less meaningful. This is one of the core insights of .NET. Consider the problem of a user connecting back to his corporate data, from any device, anywhere and any time. If you can solve that problem in a standardized way, you have solved the same problem that businesses have in connecting with each other and between their internal systems. If you use XML Web Services in the right way and build a programming model like the .NET Framework around it, you solve all the problems that we used to refer to as distributed computing. .NET decentralizes and flattens the network, so it doesn’t matter whether you are at the edge of the network or the middle. Access to information and services is equal and standardized.

Gounares: Another pillar of Microsoft’s overall .NET strategy is to make pervasive, connected computing easier and more valuable than before. One of the fundamental notions within that goal is having personal computing power in as many places as you can get it. Previously, computing at the edge of the network meant using quite simple devices, like cell phones. Now with the Tablet PC, your edge device can be a full-fledged PC. This is the reason that the whole concept of the edge of the network is going away. We fundamentally believe that software and computing is valuable and important, and with the Tablet PC and integrated .NET Framework, you can now do it more easily and in more places than ever before.

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