Gates Previews Pen-Based Computer
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates used his keynote speech at Comdex to unveil
a "proof of concept" system Microsoft calls its "Tablet PC". The Tablet
is a little over two pounds, and expected to be around the size of a legal
pad. Gates apparently believes pad/tablet PCs and pen-based computing
are the "next big thing(s)" in the PC hardware arena.
Tablet currently uses the "Crusoe" processor from upstart startup Transmeta
Corp. Transmeta has been promoting its low-power-consumption CPU as being
ideal for notebook computers and other mobile systems that require long
battery life. In addition to the battery life issue, Crusoe utilizes "Mobile
Linux", a scaled-down version of the increasingly popular Linux OS, and
something Transmeta calls "Code Morphing" software, which allows the processor
to be compatible with x86-based applications.
does not expect the Tablet to ship until 2003
This is interesting on a number of levels.
these products ever become a reality, they could conceivably take market
share from notebooks. But three years is pretty far away, in computer
terms - especially in an area where smart cell phones and the beefed-up
PDAs are eating away at the bottom of the market, and are only expected
to get more powerful and feature-packed. There is some sentiment akin
to "been there, done that, didn't like it" - this is based on the past
market failure of tablet products from Grid, EO, Go, and others. We do
not subscribe to the idea that previous failure necessarily means future
failure, especially since current technology allows more computing and
Microsoft is currently using the Crusoe processor for the prototypes,
we question whether that's the long-term plan. Acceptance of Crusoe is
still limited at best, and Microsoft has been known to pull "the ol' switcheroo"
at the last minute (e.g., switching from AMD to Intel on their Xbox gaming
console). In addition, although Crusoe's code-morphing software will run
x86-based applications, it's essentially a Linux-based unit, and that
might be a little tough for MS to use (or bless) in production models.
side issue here is the future of Transmeta. There was a bunch of hype
surrounding the unveiling of their Crusoe processor, and a number of vendors
(including Sony and Toshiba) have announced notebooks that will use Crusoe.
However, in recent weeks IBM and Compaq - while not precluding the possibility
for future products - have said they will not use Crusoe in various upcoming
notebook products. (Note: Compaq has more recently stated they have not
made any decision re: designing out Crusoe). Dell won't even switch to
AMD, never mind an unproven CPU from a startup company. All this combines
to dim Transmeta's prospects, but we do not believe they are in trouble
- for now. The next 3-6 months will of course make their picture less
Individual users should not be concerned with these products at present,
except for intellectual exercise, as in: "What's the face of computing
going to be like in five years?" Expending effort beyond that is pointless
at this stage.
may want to spend some time thinking about the possible advantages of
such a device, though, especially if they have a highly mobile workforce
such as a large outside sales staff. Key issues for the success of these
products will be things like battery life, ergonomics (including weight
and ease of use/user interface), and functional capabilities (including
speed, storage, and breadth of "full" applications supported).
Transmeta-based products: Currently, building a technology infrastructure
strategy around Crusoe is high-risk for IT managers and CIOs. The risk
level may get lower, but we still advise waiting 6-12 months (at least)
before giving serious consideration to replacing Intel/AMD notebooks wholesale.
hey, whatever happens the tablets won't be shipped for another three years,
so file this under the "extremely foggy crystal ball" section.