Killer app is non-lethal

I’m not overly fond of sitting up at a desk and writing on a keyboard. Given the choice, I’d rather do all my work sitting back in a big comfy lounge chair or on my sofa with my feet up. I miss those days when I could sit back with pen and paper in hand and do my work (back then, homework). Sitting

at a desk just doesn’t offer the same comfort.

That’s why the idea of the tablet PC is so appealing to me. It’s a chance to get back to the good old days of pen and paper and, more importantly, a chance to trade in my desk for my sofa.

Tablet PCs, such as the Fujitsu T series Lifebook I tested out recently, mean having a choice — in theory at least. I can use the keyboard and work away, or if the type of work I’m doing would be as well or better served by putting my feet up, I can simply turn my display screen around, fold it back, pull out the stylus and be transported to the days of pen and paper.

That’s the theory at least. The reality, as always, is a little different. The reality means that I can’t just write away without giving a thought to anything else. It means as I write I had better do a whole lot of editing or risk looking back at my notes and wondering what it was I was trying to say.

It’s the handwriting recognition software that’s the killer app on the tablet PC, but the technology is still far from perfect.

While the quality of the handwriting recognition software on the Lifebook wasn’t too bad, it still left a little to be desired. When writing words that are in common usage and that Microsoft has been so kind as to add into its Office dictionary, the chances of it guessing correctly was pretty high — though there were still enough errors that it required frequent editing. This means that if speed is of the essence, you’d better switch to keyboard mode. If you write without checking each sentence as you hit insert, then be prepared for some intensive editing after the fact, and maybe a raised eyebrow or two as you figure out what it was that you had actually meant.

When you’re writing words not in the dictionary, however, you can give up on the idea that the word will translate correctly. The software is expecting something it recognizes, and even if you write clearly, it won’t accept that you wrote what you intended to write. Instead it’ll take wild guesses and you’ll have to go back and correct each letter.

Also, even if you repeatedly write a word that’s not in the dictionary, correct it, write it again and correct it again ad nauseam, the application won’t learn the word or believe, that, yes, that’s what you meant to write.

The best way around this is to just add the word to the dictionary. For example, I wrote my name several times with several interesting results — none of which resembled my name. It was only when I entered my name into the dictionary that I no longer had to go back and correct it.

The other work around is to switch from cursive writing to printing. When you do this, the software seems better able to accept that you’re typing something that’s not in the dictionary.

Of course, if you’re in a meeting, and you just want to take notes that are for your own purpose alone, you can use the Windows Journal to write notes with the stylus as if you were writing on a piece of paper. You can save the notes on your tablet PC hard drive so that they’re always handy.

The other drawback that keeps the theory of the tablet PC from becoming a reality of course, is the price point. While prices are dropping — the Lifebook is $2,799 — they’re still high enough in comparison to a regular laptop to raise the question of whether it’s worth it. There are some verticals, such as the health care sector, of course, where the extra expenditure is justified.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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