Ultra-Mobile PCs
Editor's Favorites

An Interview with Jim Allchin --Co-President of the Platform Products and Services Group at Microsoft
by Terri Stratton

TS - 1. Jim, you’ve been a great proponent for community. We’ve seen bulletin boards change to newsgroups and now forums and blogs. How do you see the computing community evolving over the next few years?

JA - The moniker “computing community” is an interesting one - it includes the notion of both technology and people. One of the things I’ve been pushing at Microsoft over the past few years is that we have to emphasize people over technology. Technology has to serve people, not the other way around. The growth we’ve seen in the computing community has happened because computing has become more pervasive and Web tools much easier to use. The community’s evolution looks something like what we’ve seen in the PC industry. Bulletin boards were populated mainly by technologists, but anyone can create a blog – it’s so easy now. Everyday people are doing it, and on an infinite range of topics, not just technical ones. As technology continues to become more accessible, I think the computing community will broaden even more. For example, computing is reaching parts of the world where the market is just getting started. With advancements like peer-to-peer networking, we’ll see new types of communities form, such as communities that form on a temporary basis based on physical proximity.

TS - 2. You're one of Microsoft's biggest advocated for consumers, specifically end-users. What led to this?

JA - I’m a consumer myself. I’m a musician and a father, and a citizen who votes and pays taxes. IT Pros and Knowledge Workers are consumers too. Like a lot of people I get calls from my mom when she has questions about the computer. The things she says can be very eye-opening. For example she was totally confused that to shut down the computer she had to press the “start” button. It’s an obvious thing to get confused about, but we just expected people to figure it out. There is no “start” button in Windows Vista, by the way. I just want things to be simpler. I want things to just work.

TS - 3. Now that it’s not unusual to have 2 or more computers in a home, the cost of upgrading operating systems is big complaint with many consumers. Are there any plans to introduce a better "family-type" license than the one in XP?

JA - There aren’t any specific plans right now, but it’s something we are looking at.

TS - 4. We’re all very excited with what we’re seeing in Windows Vista. Every CTP gets better, but there are still questions that are being asked about different features.

a) Did any of the features from cancelled projects such as Neptune or Cairo make it into Windows Vista? If so, which ones?

JA - Wow. These were done a very long time ago. We learn through everything we do, and great ideas evolve and do eventually get included, though perhaps in a morphed design. Certainly, one aim we have had for a long time has been to create a file system that allowed for visualizing data in a bunch of different ways over and above the file folder structure. We’ve achieved a big step forward with Windows Vista. For example, you can now view sets of documents by author, keyword, creation date, and so forth, regardless the physical storage structure.

TS -b) Is home networking easier to set up?

JA - It’s much easier. We’ve included a new wizard that recognizes when networking hardware is connected to a PC and then steps people through the process of creating a wireless network, configuring the security protocol, and then setting up file and print sharing. Users can also save the network settings to a USB stick they can use to add a Windows XP or Windows Vista PC to the network automatically. We also have a new feature called Network Center, which is a single place for users to manage all their networking, such as creating or connecting to a network and seeing all the devices that are on the network. It gives people a much better understanding of what’s going on with their computer in terms of the local (home) network as well as the Internet. It even can create a visual map of your home network. One of the things that frustrates users is when they can’t get to the network and they don’t know why. We have a great new diagnostic infrastructure that identifies the point of failure and gives specific advice for how to get back online.

TS - c) Is it a gaming system, an entertainment system or is security the main focus?

JA - The answer is “yes.” The most significant advances in the system, like everything we’ve done under the covers for security, won’t always be visible to end-users. Then we have noticeable improvements, such as lightning fast graphics and glitch-resistant audio. I also think Windows Media Player 11 is just fantastic. I’m particularly excited about its ability to access libraries from other machines on your home network. I personally believe that security and safety top the list of why Windows Vista is so important.

TS - 5. In your opinion, what is the best feature in Windows Vista? What feature are you most excited about?

JA - I’m a geek so I’m most excited about what we’ve done to improve many system fundamentals. We’ve made it much easier to deploy, for example many corporations only need to manage one system image, which can include several configurations and support for multiple languages. This can translate into huge cost savings. Security is better in so many ways – we have invested a lot to protect the user from malicious software and data from theft. We’ve improved the stability of the core OS and drivers and do a better job of identifying problems and fixing them. Of course the new UI is great, but the quality of the underlying system is what excites me the most.

TS - 6. If you had just a minute to tell people why they should upgrade to Windows Vista rather than Windows XP, what would be the 3 main reasons?

JA - Actually I would give four reasons: improvements we’ve made around safety and security, the user experience, mobility, and the Internet. We did a lot to improve security with Windows XP SP2 and have done more, some that isn’t directly visible such as a more rigorous development process, plus new features like anti-phishing, protect mode in IE7, and Bitlocker, which helps protect data on laptops that are lost or stolen. We’ve also made it easier for standard users to run applications without requiring that they have administrator permissions. The user experience is another huge area of advancement. In addition to making it more aesthetically appealing, we're really trying to go to make it simpler. For example simpler to find things in the control panel, simpler to find things in your documents area, simpler to find programs, simpler to visualize information. In terms of mobility, we've put the common things you need to manage the system in a common dashboard, we’ve significantly improved key scenarios around synchronizing data, and for tablets we’ve added touch capability and some great innovations in handwriting recognition that do a better job of understanding how to translate words that may not be in the standard dictionary. Finally, we’ve plumbed the system to be a great Internet citizen. It’s IPV6 from top to bottom, meaning it can participate natively on a pure IPV6 network. The same will be true on the server. So we will bring IPV6 to the masses. It will be a seamless migration because we can run IPV4 as well. For top level interoperability, we included a very complete Web Services stack as part of the product. Internet Explorer 7.0 has a lot of improvements, particularly around better security and usability. We’ve also built in support for RSS feeds.

TS - 7. A few years ago, we heard a lot about Whistler, Blackcomb and Longhorn. Whistler became Windows XP, Longhorn is becoming Windows Vista and now Blackcomb has become Vienna. What can you tell us about it?

JA - Right now we’re focused on getting Windows Vista out the door. We’re thinking about some of the hard problems we’ll have to solve in future versions, but as for what the products will actually look like there really isn’t anything to tell yet.

TS - 8. What do you consider your biggest accomplishment at Microsoft?

JA - Bill convinced me to come to Microsoft in 1990 when he told me that there is no other place I could work where I could touch the lives of as many people. I have been fortunate to work with some just outstanding people – the best in the world. I hope my legacy will be my relentless focus on improving quality – quality in the user experience, quality in the soundness and security of the product, quality in the way we develop software.

TS - 9. Now that Vista is on the final road to completion, have you made any special plans for your retirement? Are you having any second thoughts?

JA - There is still a lot of work to do on Vista and I am totally focused on that right now. I’m not gone yet! I’ve loved my time at Microsoft and I still love the company, but I’m looking forward to retirement. As for what I’m going to do next, I’m not sure yet.

TS -Thank you for all you’ve done for Windows! It’s almost impossible to imagine where the world would be without it.

JA - And thank you for all of your support. If not for the support and feedback of communities like yours, Windows would have never become the amazing product it is today.

TS - Our best wishes go with you.

JA - Thank you.

Interview with Lenovo's Product Manager, Mike Hagerty

In a recent interview with Mike Hagerty, a Product Manager for Lenovo's ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC, we were given some good insight into the future of Lenovo and Tablet PCs. Rather writing it in interview form, I'm taking the liberty of stylizing some of our conversations.

One of the first things I asked was the use of the "IBM" vs "Lenovo" logo on the X41.  As many of you already know, Lenovo has the right to use IBM and its logo for 18 months.  This will give the public the time to adjust to the name "Lenovo" rather than "IBM."  The "ThinkPad" brand will remain. It's going to take some time to get used to saying "Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC" but it's something I'm working hard to do.

I mentioned that one of the issues that we've seen in the newsgroups is that the ThinkPad X41 is not being received by customers in the timeframe it was promised and asked if demand exceed their expectations.

Mike's response was that sales have been very good.  There was a lot of demand which in turn may have caused some backlogs, but they are shipping product consistently. 

When I asked Mike what the 3 features that he believes are superior in the ThinkPad X41, his answers were instantaneous.  He didn't have to think about it at all.  I didn't feel it was just 'marketese,' but something he believed.  I don't disagree with him.

    1.  Form Factor - the 12" is the lightest (3.5 lbs), thinnest (1.14 inches) convertible Tablet PC.  It's the only convertible that can truly be considered an ultra-portable.

    2.  Battery Life *- 2.6 hours with the small battery and 6.3 hours with the larger 8-cell
*from Lenovo's Web site
- "A description of the testing and the environment under which the test was performed is available at Battery life (and recharge times) will vary based on many factors including screen brightness, applications, features, power management, battery conditioning and other customer preferences."

    3. Security** - From the fingerprint reader and software to the embedded security system, no Tablet PC is safer.
**For more information on security, check here
After using the X41 for almost 2 weeks, I can attest to the excellence of the fingerprint scanner and software.  This is the first scanner I've used that worked immediately and without my having to re-scan several times before it could read my print.

I asked about the possibility of seeing a larger or smaller ThinkPad in the foreseeable future.  Mike's response was that it would depend on what their customers want.  It's also a matter of mobility versus usability.  When a Tablet PC becomes too large and heavy, it loses some mobility.  Also, from the other viewpoint, when it becomes too mobile, it can lose usability.  This is the dilemma almost every Tablet PC vendor faces.

When asked about adding an outdoor-viewable screen, Mike stated that so far, it hasn't been something that's been requested a lot, but Lenovo is checking.  The existing screen, while not clearly viewable in direct sunlight, certainly has very good viewability in most situations.  There's also a very nice protective and anti-glare coating on the screen.

Adding features have to meet not only customers demands, but also have a reasonable cost delta for those demands. 

With the release of Microsoft's Windows Vista Beta 1 recently, I had to ask if Mike could share any plans for upcoming Tablets to fit in with the Windows Vista release.  Of course, he couldn't say much other than that they don't have all the final specs from Microsoft yet.  As a side note, I'll be installing the beta on my X41.  I'll report more on that later.

Mike sees the future as a continuation of what Lenovo is already doing.  They ask customers what they want, then they try to meet those expectations. He boasted of a great product design team who can make a product fly when others are only running. 

The future is just beginning.

For photos of the ThinkPad X41 that I'm currently testing, check here.  Full review to follow soon.

For more information on the Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC, check Lenovo's Web site.

Interview with Fritz Switzer of The abletFactory about the release of abletWordMgr

Our congratulations to Fritz on his being awarded as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP)!

 What follows is an interview I had with Fritz Switzer about the release of a Tablet PC program called abletWordMgr. Fritz talks about this new program and how it can help users with some of the problems users have been having with their tablets.

<>: Fritz, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about abletWordMgr.

<Fritz>: Sure, this program actually grew out of the newsgroups. I’ve been interested in some of the issues of handwriting recognition for sometime. In fact, I used to develop for Windows for Pen, the pen-based operating system. It included a “trainable” system, in that you could teach the system how to better recognize your characters.

I don’t miss that system very much, but I felt there was this big gap from the user’s perspective. Without this “trainability”, most of the users have reconciled themselves to handwriting recognition being of secondary importance. It just didn’t make much sense that Microsoft would take a step backwards, so I started to investigate what was going on under the hood. I started to get more familiar with the whole recognition process. It didn’t take long to see that the current implementation was actually very conducive to adding additional words to a User Dictionary. The problem was how to get the words into this dictionary.

So as I started to see messages on the newsgroup, a couple of themes kept popping up. One - adding many words “en masse” and two - foreign language support. So basically, abletWordMgr provides a way to add a bunch of words very quickly and can do that for different words groups. Foreign languages just happen to be one of those groups.

<>: Is this a replacement for MUIRP?

<Fritz>: No, I don’t think so. Besides, it wouldn’t be a very good business model to try to compete with Microsoft. I think it supplements what MS has done and what they may do in the future. I’ve only seen what everyone else has about MUIRP. I don’t really know what it will do, or when it will do it. However one possibility is that if MUIRP is only available as an OEM product, the user base will have an alternative for some level of multiple foreign language support.

In fact, I know of a lot of questions, and that’s putting it nicely, being asked about MUIRP. But from my perspective, the current handwriting implementation is a very solid structure. I give MS high marks for its versatility and its extensibility. It builds on the speech engine and is very adaptable. It was ripe for enhancement. We saw its potential and directed our attention toward the abletWordMgr solution. 

In addition, I don’t think there will be a facility for SPIDs in the MUIRP.

<>: SPIDs, I’ve seen that mentioned, what exactly are SPIDs?

<Fritz>: SPIDs are Special Interest Dictionaries. SPIDs are the words that we add to the system. Tablets basically operate with three dictionaries. The System, User, or Application dictionary have the most impact on recognition. With abletWordMgr we are adding to those dictionaries and that is how we’re increasing the recognition accuracy. Now this doesn’t always have to be basic words of a language. We can create SPIDs for very specialized users. For example, the medical profession has its own vocabulary and literally hundreds of thousands of words and phrases it uses regularly. We treat that just like we would another foreign language and let the users add these words to the Tablet. Once they are added, recognition works the same way. So it looks like this reference book, and when ink sees the match in our dictionary, it gets recognized.

Some of the staff at abletFactory call themselves “SPID Doctors.” They create, collect and format these words into the dictionaries we use and make available with the product.

<>: How often does it get recognized? I see you throwing out some pretty impressive statistics.

<Fritz>: We’ve been fortunate with a group of Beta Users that have given us a lot of feedback. Some negative but more positive. Unfortunately, most of them consider themselves part-time engineers and scientists and wanted to be able to quantify the recognition accuracy and measure its performance. So we undertook a very comprehensive set of tests that would measure what the recognition accuracy was before implementing abletWordMgr, and then test again after changes are made to the system. Basically, we capture handwriting, recognize it, score it and then do it again with the words added. We’ve been able to pretty clearly and consistently demonstrate about a 30%-50% increase in accuracy. It’s never going to be 100%, but then again, no one is going to give up their backspace key on a keyboard either.

<>: Who can benefit from using abletWordMgr?

<Fritz>: On one of the manufacturer’s sites, they talk about diagonal applications. I think this can apply to that question. Our focus is on some very specific vertical markets like Medical and Legal. They get most of the attention and seem to be accepting the platform very quickly. However, because of two other drivers, foreign languages and “students” we see a horizontal market developing as well. So we’ll be taking a diagonal view of the marketplace. We’re finishing up a version for students for example and will be making it available on our site very soon.

Like I said earlier, most of our time is now spent on creating new SPIDs. We are seeing many areas that we can support. I expect to be surprised with some new areas of interest in the very near future. Part of the excitement with tablets is seeing how and where users are implementing these systems.

<>: What’s next for the abletFactory?

<Fritz>: Well, it will probably be something around the recognition arena. But we’ve been getting ready for releasing abletWordMgr and investigating Blogs with ink. I’m not very smart about blogging and we’ve been trying out some ideas, in fact some of the documentation and dialogue for abletWordMgr has used ink blogging instead of e-mail. Most of our attention units right now are on abletWordMgr though.

 <>: Thanks for the update.

<Fritz>: Thank you for the interest. J -------

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