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Tablet PC OS and next version of Office previewed

Microsoft demos new software for the desktop, Tablet PC and PDA

Microsoft has given more information about what products we can expect from it this year at New York's TechXNY exhibition. It gave some information about the forthcoming update to Office, currently codenamed Office 11, as well as revealing that the long-awaited Tablet PCs, with proprietary operating system, should actually launch in November. The company also demoed the latest version of its Pocket PC handheld operating system, Windows-powered Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition.

Office 11 is due to launch in the middle of next year, according to Jeff Raikes (pictured), Microsoft's group vice president of productivity and profits. He said the new version will be aimed at information workers, and that their needs would be addressed by improvements to communication and collaboration.

Raikes also spent time showing off Windows XP Professional for Tablet PC. This is basically Windows XP Professional with extensions for PCs that have a touch screen and a stylus. The OS will appear only on PCs with the necessary hardware; Microsoft does not plan to sell it separately. Raikes demonstrated Tablet PCs from Fujitsu and Toshiba, while HP and ViewSonic have also announced plans to launch Tablet PCs.

Prototypes that have been revealed so far don't take the term 'tablet' too literally, and all either include a keyboard or offer the option. For example, the preproduction Acer TravelMate 100 is a subnotebook that can be converted into a slate by swiveling its 10.4in LCD touch-screen 180 degrees and folding it back over the keyboard. The display operates either in landscape or portrait mode, and the OS can be calibrated for right- or lefthanded use.

Raikes revealed that prototype Tablet PCs running the beta version of Microsoft Windows XP Professional for Tablet PC will be deployed in several customer sites in the US over the next 30 days. He set the shipping date for Tablet PCs running the new Microsoft OS at 7 November.

Pricing and UK availability for these products has yet to be announced.

Another string to Microsoft's Tablet PC bow, is Reader 2.5 which was also unveiled at the show. Reader is a tool designed to make eBooks easier to read on a tablet-style PC. It will be available as a free download (for more information click here), and will ship with many Tablet PCs.

The final addition to the software line-up is Pocket PC 2002 Phone edition, which is Microsoft's handheld software, optimised for use with PDAs that have integrated wireless voice and data capabilities. The software is due for release in the US later this summer.


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