Mobility

IT managers need Tablet PCs, too

Although Tablet PCs have been targeted at IT pros who need access to information while away from their desks or offices, that doesn't mean that you can't make a case for buying one of these phenomenal new tools for yourself.

IT managers get the short end of the stick sometimes. You get to do all the planning and preparation for a new hardware rollout, but the users and support staff are usually the ones who truly benefit from the introduction of a new technology. Take, for example, the new Tablet PC. While the transformation to a complete Tablet PC-enabled workforce will be slow in this economy, it would be naive to think that your company’s next big hardware upgrade will not include a few of these devices.

However, when the first Tablet PCs are introduced into your network, who do you think will get the first crack at them? Most likely it will be the techno-geek executives and other eager early adopters with no appreciation for the true power of a Tablet PC. To help you make the business case for getting one of these devices into your hands, I thought I would come up with a few unique reasons why your name should be on the short list to receive a Tablet PC.

Journal feature
A Tablet PC equipped with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition includes a wonderful application named Microsoft Journal. This program is a boon for managers looking to end pen-and-paper meetings in which notes need to be transferred to the PC. Nobody likes entering data twice, but until the Tablet PC came along, there was no other way to centralize notes taken from meetings. Sure, you could type in information with your laptop, but keeping up with a fast talker on a QWERTY-style keyboard is futile. Now when someone says something noteworthy, you can easily capture it with Microsoft Journal. After the meeting you can use Microsoft Journal’s additional features that enable text conversion.

In fact, the ability to take your chicken scratch and turn it into legible computer text is perhaps the biggest selling point of these devices. While the feature is far from perfect, Microsoft Journal has a functional word-correction feature built in. Simply circle your handwritten notes with the Lasso feature, and a dialog box containing what the computer thinks you wrote appears with a list of alternative suggestions.

Wireless access makes it worth the money
The ability to roam wirelessly presents a unique opportunity for managers looking to compute unfettered. Most Tablet PCs come prepackaged with integrated 802.11 a or b Wi-FI equipment. At the very minimum, a Tablet PC should contain an expansion slot in order to obtain wireless access. With wireless access points positioned throughout the office, a Tablet PC can enable you to stay connected to network resources while you take a stroll down the hall. Obviously, the biggest advantage with wireless access is if a meeting gets dull, you can answer all that e-mail that keeps piling up. In addition, if others in your office are working from Tablet PCs, you can foster collaboration by allowing users to wirelessly receive and send documents with you.

IT books on the Tablet PC
When IT books started to proliferate on the Web as e-books, I thought that they were a nice concept but that not many people would be willing to read pages and pages of text while remaining glued to their office monitors. PDA screens were too small, and most laptops had their screens positioned in a landscape orientation, which cut out a major portion of the screen that could be devoted to text. The Tablet PC changes the e-book dilemma with a form factor that is perfect for wading through large tomes of technical text. Note that any reader will work, but Microsoft Reader comes standard with the XP Tablet PC Edition.

The reader acts as your library, so your manuals are kept in one easy-to-access location. Once an e-book is loaded in the reader, searching and book-marking text manuals is a cinch. Simply select an option in the context-sensitive menu screen to pick up where you left off or go to a specific page. Also, the portrait positioning of the Tablet PC screen makes reading as natural as it is with the Tablet PC’s paperbound ancestor.

If all else fails, build a test lab
Still can’t justify the expense of a Tablet PC for your own use? With so many Tablet PCs coming down the channel, you could easily overcome any objections (from yourself or from accounting) by establishing a “test lab” that integrates these devices into your network. Vendors are eager to introduce their product into an existing infrastructure if there is an opportunity to purchase more when your budget allows for an upgrade. A few well-placed calls could help you land a demo model you can try out before you buy.

The Tablet PC is set to revolutionize the way your users work. The IT vendors know they have a hit on their hands; they just have to get the rest of the world to buy in. When that time comes, you need to be knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Tablet PC. Having one early could definitely help you achieve that goal.

Editor's Picks