Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Instructive experiences with WinXP and a tablet PC

As I wrote a bit about last week (here and here), I have been experimenting with a new HP Tablet PC laptop because of its availability to me, the fact that I’ve wanted to try out tablet technology for quite awhile, and some unexplained shutdown problems I’ve been having with my new MacBook.

Well, after about a week of working, I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences to say the least– some successes, but more frustrations than positives at this point. Before I recount those, I’ll note that I am currently back on my Macbook tonight after installing the free “MacBook SMC Firmware Update” from Apple this evening. This fixes a fan-related issue with the Macbook, so I’m hoping maybe that was my problem… We’ll see, I think I’ll put the Macbook through it’s paces in the next day or so and see if the unexpected crash problem recurs. I really don’t want to back all my stuff up and turn my Macbook over to Applecare to get a new logic board…. Backup 3 (a great app free to .Mac subscribers) told me it would need 15 DVDs to backup my stuff tonight! Time to buy a new external hard drive and stop using DVDs for backup media!

Let me first note it is pure joy to be again surfing, blogging, and IMing on my Macbook! Ah! This is like coming home after spending a week in a foreign land– where communication is more difficult than it should be and basic tasks (like sleeping, eating, and drinking) seem more cumbersome and unnatural somehow. I have been able to “do” all the things I’ve wanted to do on the WinXP tablet: I’ve surfed for info, checked and sent email, used my social bookmarks, blogged with Ecto and Flock, downloaded free FTP software to update my WordPress blog, made a podcast with Audacity, bought a $20 Walmart Webcam and used Skype to IM and videoconference with several folks, bought Trillian Pro for $25 and used it to desktop videoconference in the evening with members of my family using Macs and iChat AV, switched my email client from Entourage to Thunderbird— exporting and importing all my contacts, and played a bit with the tablet functionality. Whew. That is a pretty long list. Oh, and I’ve also downloaded and used the word processor in OpenOffice a bit, created some PDF files with it, and used The GIMP to edit some digital photos and post them to Flickr. My first task was installing free ClamWin antivirus software, of course, to try and stave off malware– but unfortunately it has not proven up to the security task or some of the programs I’ve installed aren’t playing well with each other.

The most notable success stories of my WinXP tablet experience to date have been:

  • The tablet technology is really cool. (I would even say “sexy.”)
  • I was pleased that I could do passable desktop videoconferences with a $20 WalMart webcam (Phillips).
  • I liked the IM interface of Trillian better than Adium X, which I’ve been using. (Just learned tonight that a new beta is available tho, and I like it better– it is more “iChat like.”)
  • I was pleased the HP Tablet has a built-in microphone, which worked passably well for podcasting.
  • As free open-source software programs, The GIMP and OpenOffice are very impressive on the Windows side. The GIMP is not exactly PhotoShop, but it is pretty darn close for the types of basic image manipulation I do, which is amazing for it’s FREE price.
  • Ubuntu Linux runs AMAZINGLY fast on a new HP laptop. I have not played with it much, but as a web browser and clerical applications (basic productivity software) operating system environment alone it is jaw-dropping amazing.

That is probably about it for successes. Now for the frustrations:

  • Somehow, someway, my installed WinXP on the tablet has started some BIG slowdowns, stalls and stutters in performance– I’m guessing the source is either malware that I obtained from the Internet or email (less likely) or a conflict in some of the software applications I’ve installed. Who knows? The frustrating thing is– I just want to WORK, not wait for the computer mouse to start moving again and responding to my inputs– so this is the most frustrating and irksome problem of all.
  • Ecto is available for Windows, and I’ve blogged about how I like it’s WYSIWYG interface— but I still prefer the Mac version, mainly because of the irritating line break issue and the screen refresh problems on the Windows side.
  • Although the tablet PC technology is “sexy,” I have found that I really don’t want to use it much at all. I am not a longhand writer, I am a keyboarder, so handwriting recognition is not really a “gift” for me– it is more a handicap. I can see where folding your laptop screen over would be great for reading eBooks online– but as I read things, I am typically “doing stuff” with the info I find. I am saving a website to my social bookmarks, blogging on the ideas, leaving a comment, etc. This type of informational workflow requires a keyboard– a tablet pen doesn’t do the job for me.
  • The spam filtering in Thunderbird has been noticeably and irritatingly worse than in Entourage. It hasn’t been hard to setup mail filters, but I really would prefer not to see ANY spam. This experience has really made me appreciate Entourage and its excellent spam filtering.
  • The USB port placements on the laptop are poor. I have a new 60 GB Maxtor USB hard drive, and it won’t work on the laptop because it needs 2 USB ports: one for data and one for power. There are 3 available USB ports, but none are next to each other.
  • The computer doesn’t wake up from sleep (standby mode) as quickly as my Macbook does.
  • The computer did not ship with a CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive built-in, and the person who ordered the laptop did not order one. So this is a major inconvenience. Hopefully that will be remedied at some point with an external CD/DVD drive, but that will be a pain to cart around and use. I much prefer my slot-loading CD/DVD drive on my Macbook.

So, that is probably more information than you wanted about my WinXP Tablet experiences to date– but you’re not paying for this information anyway, and reading this far on this post is strictly voluntary! 🙂 This experience has proven quite instructive however– and again, I’m really hoping that the firmware update on my Macbook will be the cure to the shutdown problems. I’ve been running now for over three hours this evening and nothing has shut down, so maybe that did the trick! My fingers are crossed! 🙂

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3 responses to “Instructive experiences with WinXP and a tablet PC”

  1. Cary Harrod Avatar
    Cary Harrod

    I am a tablet user and find your thoughts (and frustrations) interesting and insightful. I have had occasional moments of frustration, but wouldn’t trade mine for anything. If you ever have the opportunity, I would highly recommend visiting Cincinnati Country Day School. All children, grades 5-12, have their own tablet pc and what they are doing is amazing. CCDS offers a three day conference that gives participants a spectacular view of what can be done with these swiveling machines. Impressive, illuminating and transforming.

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks for the recommendation, Cary. I am just getting started– and I do think the instructional possibilities using a tablet are far beyond what can be done with traditional laptop. I’m curious about what can be done instructionally with a less expensive tool like an InterWrite Schoolpad compared to a tablet. Ultimately I think we want kids to have a mobile, wireless tablet for school– once the price point gets low enough.

  3. Graham Wegner Avatar

    Wesley, your point about preferring typing to using the handwriting recognition is an interesting one. Maybe it’s older educators like myself (recently turned 40) who were schooled in handwriting as a way of getting information down fast who love that feature while “digital natives” have been raised on the keyboard. I do think that for live blogging at a conference, the Tablet is great – no clacking of keys to irritate people sitting next to you, it can lie flat on your lap just like a paper based notebook and you don’t have to be neat – just be legible and the written content becomes text. Therefore for students, the handwriting recognition won’t really help develop their handwriting skills. Interestingly, you are obviously a Mac lover and the list of “gripes” seemed to be excuses to get back to your MacBook Pro 😉 (which, by the way, has a waiting list here in Adelaide for purchasing) but here down under, Windows based technology dominates the school scene. So, it is hard to get my hands on Mac technology and get to know it as well as you obviously do – I’d estimate that less than 5% of schools here would be Apple based. And Tablet technology is at least one area where Mac has still yet to make a move – I wouldn’t like to swap my work Tablet PC for a regular laptop. Great post, Wes. Hope your IWB workshop went well the other week as well.