Another Early Account of How Microsoft Strangled Its Own Tablets

Illustration for article titled Another Early Account of How Microsoft Strangled Its Own Tablets

In former VP Dick Brass's stabbing assault on Microsoft, he pointed to how his tablet projects were strangled to death by competing groups inside the company. So it's interesting to see the record of infighting go back further.

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First, Microsoft didn't give Brass as many engineers as he wanted—just six, instead of the 20 he wanted. (He did manage to snag two guys worked at Xerox's nigh-mythical PARC, the birthplace of the GUI that inspired the Macintosh.) Consequently, the team ran into issues like handwriting recognition that only worked half the time, and a confusing interface, according to user tests.

BusinessWeek also reported back then that Office group wanted to focus on their own applications, even though the tablet group knew having software ready to go was key. Bill Gates went for the weak compromise, an add-on pack with tablet-specific features. This seems to support Brass's allegations in the NYT op/ed that the VP of Office at the time "refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet." Ironically, the person who shut down Brass appears to be Steven Sinofsky, current president of Windows—the guy who turned the division around and gave us Windows 7.

But the problem now isn't that Microsoft doomed their tablet PCs to failure 7 years ago, it's that they still haven't solved their tablet problems today. [BusinessWeek]

DISCUSSION

Microsoft doomed their tablets to failure by marketing them as something other than niche market device.

There are a very limited subset of instances where a tablet advantageous to a laptop, and text entry is never ever going to be one of them. Adding tablet specific features to Office isn't going to help the fact that inputting text with a tablet is FUCKING slow by nature. How slow? The average person writes at around 30 wpm, whereas they can type at 50-70 wpm as long as they aren't hunting and pecking.

This isn't something that can be solved by just adding tablet specific features to the same programs: it's the nature of the beast. If you absolutely need to write handwritten notes, just use a notepad and type it up later.

That said, Microsoft's original vision of a tablet with a stylus is exactly what I need, and it isn't broken or a failure for what I use it for: digital painting.

Now it seems that everyone and their grandmother thinks that touch input is going to somehow change tablets into successful products while still ignoring the core problem that they don't improve upon or even come close to matching the same data input and user interface navigation rate possible with a keyboard and mouse.

Look, I get it, the touch stick/touchpad on your laptop isn't the best means of cursor control, but instead of just moving a finger or your hand, you want have to move your entire arm to control a cursor? Yeah, that's an improvement! And that's before even considering how inaccurate the pad of your finger is for controlling what amounts to a single active pixel on screen or the fact that by nature you're going to get all sorts of finger grease and shit on your screen.

Tablets may not be perfect, but they've been fine enough in the right hands for the right uses. If anything, I'd argue that from my own experiences and for what I use mine for, the release of XP Tablet heralded the start of a slow, steady decline and only brought a few limited improvements to the table.

The iPad isn't even in the same league as Tablet PCs, it's just a bigger iPod touch. Trying to compare the two is like trying to compare minivans to motorcycles.