Windows XP Service Pack 2: How it affects Tablet PC Edition

When you install WinXP SP2 on a Tablet PC, you're essentially getting an OS upgrade to TPC Edition 2005. Among the improvements are a more streamlined writing pad input panel, context tagging, superior handwriting recognition, and easier URL entry.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is a complex update with many ramifications for IT pros. TechRepublic's Windows XP Service Pack 2 Quick Guide drills down on critical SP2 need-to-know areas, with sections on fundamentals, changes that occur after installation, deployment procedures, problem areas, and removal.

Now that Windows XP Service Pack 2 has been released, many users are wondering how it will affect their computers. The answer differs somewhat, depending on what edition of Windows XP you're running. The changes made by SP2 are essentially the same for Windows Home and Professional Editions, but if you have a Tablet PC, you'll find that installing SP2 makes an even bigger difference. In fact, it changes your operating system to Tablet PC Edition 2005. SP2 is basically the public release of the new TPC OS codenamed Lonestar. In this article, we'll take a look at the SP2 features and enhancements that are specific to the Tablet PC.

A free operating system upgrade

It's not often that Microsoft gives us a whole operating system upgrade at no cost—but that's what Tablet PC users get with SP2. For developers, there is a whole new application programming interface (API), but in this article, we'll focus on the user experience. Some of the most significant changes include:

  • A newly designed writing pad input panel
  • Context tagging
  • Easier URL entry

Taken together, these enhancements make for a brand new, much more functional TPC experience. This is a case where the whole of the changes is much greater than the sum of the parts.

New writing pad

One of the first big differences you'll notice is the new design of the writing pad input panel. Figure A shows the old input panel.

Figure A

The original writing pad had a less streamlined appearance.

The new writing pad has a more streamlined appearance. There are fewer keys on the keypad, and those that remain are arranged in an easier-to-access layout. Keys have been added for the numeric keypad and the symbols pad. Instead of tabs to switch between the writing pad and onscreen keyboard, there are icons on the left side of the writing area. The new writing pad is shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The new writing pad has a subtly different look.

An interesting change is that the second line for writing doesn't appear until you almost reach the end of the first line. The panel will continue to grow new lines as you keep writing. Figure C shows the panel after a second line was needed.

Figure C

A second writing line appears when you get close to the end of the top line.

The Insertbutton also appears, taking the place of the Sendbutton on the original writing pad.

Note that as you write, the text appears under each line. If you see that the handwriting recognizer has interpreted a word incorrectly, you can just scribble over it to erase it. Then, you can insert the word in the blank space, writing a bit more carefully so it will be recognized correctly.

In my experiments, this was rarely necessary. There is a noticeable improvement in the quality of handwriting recognition. I had to deliberately write illegibly to get misinterpreted words. (My husband, a medical doctor, was able to confound the recognizer much more easily.) This improvement in recognition is a big bonus of upgrading your TPC to SP2.

The text words that appear in white boxes under your handwriting are clickable. When you click one, you'll get a box that includes several alternate words, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Clicking on a text word displays a list of alternatives.

You can select the correct spelling from the list of alternates. (In this case, the recognizer capitalized men, so we will choose the lowercase option.) You can also correct the recognition result by writing in the correct letter(s).


The new input panel even works with Notepad and other legacy applications.

Two buttons appear to the right of the writing area. The top button allows you to choose where to dock the input panel (top or bottom of the screen) or undock it altogether, in which case it will pop up close to the insertion point. You can also select Options from this button's menu, which will allow you to configure the input panel settings, as shown in Figure E. The Options dialog box makes it easy for you to tailor your Tablet PC to your own preferences.

Figure E

The Options button enables you to configure input panel settings.

Context tagging

Context tagging is a technology that makes it possible for applications to tell the handwriting recognizer what type of data goes in a particular field. This enhances the accuracy of recognition. For example, if the field accepts only numeric characters (such as a phone number), the recognizer can better discern that the character you've written is a 5, rather than an S.

These "input scopes," as Microsoft calls them, greatly improve the performance of the handwriting recognizer. A special application of the ability to recognize context is URL entry, which just got a lot easier.

Easier URL entry

One thing that hasn't always been easy with Tablet PC is entering URLs in the Web browser via handwriting. The recognizer was often confused by the unconventional format and tended to interpret a handwritten slash as a 1 or an l, or to interpret dots as commas or dashes. For me, this was one of the most frustrating aspects of using the TPC, and I always switched to the onscreen keyboard for entering URLs.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who had trouble with this, because Microsoft has addressed it in TPC 2005. When you type a URL into the Internet Explorer address box, the Tablet PC knows that there should be no spaces and expects slashes and dots within the text.

Even better, a new set of keys appears on the writing pad that allows you to quickly insert common sets of characters such as http:// and www. Figure F shows this special set of keys.

Figure F

When you enter information in IE's address field, a new set of keys appears in the writing pad.

Realizing the TPC potential

One of the most common remarks I've heard from Tablet PC users is that "it has great potential, but it's not quite there yet." Up until now, I have enjoyed using my TPC in special situations but would not have wanted to be caught without a keyboard. Many other users felt the same, hence the popularity of the "convertible" tablet over the slate style.

The new Tablet PC 2005, which is installed when you install Windows XP Service Pack 2 on your TPC, brings the Tablet PC much closer to realizing its full potential and makes using it in a broader range of situations much easier. These changes—especially the overall improvement in the quality of handwriting recognition—are difficult to quantify. You really have to experience them yourself to fully appreciate the magnitude of change SP2 brings to the Tablet PC.


Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...


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