Sleep, Wireless, Tablet PCs, Open Source, and Action Versus Reaction.

My sleep schedule has been on an early slide the last few days. I got tired fairly early last night, so of course it wasn’t surprising when I woke up and it was dark outside. But 1:30 seems like a bit much ;^) Still, I can’t have needed sleep that much if I woke up on my own accord.

So I might as well write about what I woke up thinking about.

My boss said he would like to look into getting our shop manager set up with a tablet PC. Okay, sounds possibly useful. Tablets certainly looked cool when I saw something on upcoming technology a few years ago. So I set off to research tablets and wireless networking.

Disclaimer: this is all based on web research.

Wireless network has, reportedly, in it’s latest generation, solved most of the security problems. Still not perfect, but good enough for most tasks. So I’m less concerned about opening up the company network to random passers by.

Speed is up to 54Mbs, about half of the standard ethernet (which is meanwhile gearing up for Gigabit, and the next generation beyond that in early adopter) This is also an emerging technology though, and some of the standards and interoperability may still be a bit shaky. Still, with a little research before buying, it should be quite serviceable. (And no, we can’t just settle on the slower stuff – the company choose a poorly designed database several years ago, and it runs slow on 100Mbs ethernet. I suppose we could use the same terminal server as our branch office is using, but I don’t know how well that would work with the tablet pen input)

Tablet PCs have been out for a little over a year, and are getting into the second generation (at least) They come in two types. Slate, or the ‘pure’ pen based tablet, sometimes with a cradle or docking station for keyboard or extra ports. The other is convertible, which is essentially a notebook with a monitor that can swivel around to close face up, with the addition of the pen input. There is a small amount of fuzz – i.e. slate models that have a detachable cradle/cover.

The really interesting thing about tablets is that Microsoft created them. The ideas aren’t new of course – the pen input concept has been popularized by PDAs, and notebook technology has been driving thin LCD and PC components. Tablets have even been attempted several times before, but they never took off.

Yet where others failed before, MS decided to put it’s substantial money. So far they have convinced a lot of hardware manufacturers to play their game. Numerous different models have appeared on the market in the last two years.

And they all run Windows XP, Tablet Edition.

You can’t buy it in stores. This superset of XP (complete with special product keys) is only available with new hardware Microsoft owns this market. Which I guess is only fair since they created it.

There is, of course, a low priced Linux version in the works. But it doesn’t have any of the handwriting recognition technology, which, if you look at MS’s marketing, is 90% of the reason to get a tablet in the first place. Likewise, a tablet is essentially a PC, so you could install some of OS yourself. And you would likewise not have the built in handwriting recognition. Probably have to write a bunch of device drivers yourself, to boot, since most tablets have a number of custom buttons and such, though the pen interfaces may be standardizing.

In martial arts, we have a concept ‘action always beats reaction.’ This, I think is why open source will never, ultimately, defeat Microsoft. MS, having, in all likelihood, exhausted the desktop market, set out to create a new market. Open source is trying to make things open, and may, in the long run, take existing things and create versions that are better in quality – but not different in kind. This is reactive. MS is being active. MS has Bill Gates. Apple has Steve Jobs. But nobody is being active in open source.

Posted Tuesday, December 30th, 2003 under Essay.

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