Even if your organization hasn’t decided to start deploying Tablet PCs, eventually you’ll probably end up supporting them in some way. So you’ll need to be ready to deal with all sorts of new support issues, including supporting some of Windows XP’s Tablet PC-only features such as Windows Journal.

As users start using Windows Journal to jot down notes from meetings, they’ll want a way to share or distribute those notes. While other Tablet PC users can easily read Journal files, what about users who aren’t so fortunate as to have a Tablet PC? How would these users benefit or be able to access the data created by Journal? That’s where Microsoft’s Journal Viewer comes in.

Journalism 101
Microsoft includes Journal as part of the Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP. This program allows users to write down information freehand using a stylus just as if they were writing on a legal pad. Users can make notes in their own handwriting and include freehand drawings.

Going beyond basic scribbling, Journal allows users to insert text, move drawings and text around, and create keyword searches based on handwritten text. Journal can also convert handwritten text to print with a little bit of training.

The problem comes when users want to share information stored in their Journal pages. Journal stores files with a .jnt extension, which isn’t readable by anything but Journal. So, if a user tries to send a .jnt file to someone who isn’t using Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, that person can’t use the data.

Journal does allow you to export .jnt files to other file formats but not without limitations. For example, you can convert Journal files to the graphic .tif format, but as you can see in Figure A, .tif-converted Journal files lose quite a bit of resolution, making them hard to read. In addition, you can view only one page of the Journal data at a time.

Figure A
Journal can export .tif files, but they are hard to read.

Also, Journal can export its data to an MHTML format, which other users can read using Internet Explorer, as seen in Figure B. The MHTML file solves the distortion problem with .tif exports. MHTML files are much more readable than .tif files and more accurately reflect what the original Journal user wrote.

Figure B
Journal can also export MHTML files viewable by Internet Explorer.

MTHML files aren’t perfect, though. Compared to .jnt and .tif files, MHTML files are much larger. For the example shown in Figures A and B, the .tif version took only 20 KB. The original .jnt file was only 69 KB. In comparison, the MHTML version of the Journal entry was 87 KB. Although that’s not a huge difference, this is for only a two-page entry. As you can probably guess, as the number of pages increases, the size difference also increases. This can cause a problem if you want to share large files or e-mail them across the network to many recipients.

As a final solution, you can always just retype the information in Word and distribute it that way. But that’s a rather low-tech solution and would take too much time.

Journal Viewer to the rescue
To solve these problems, Microsoft created the Journal Viewer. Like the Visio Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, and other Office Viewers, the Journal Viewer allows users who don’t have Journal installed on their PCs to still be able to access and view Journal files the way they were created. Windows Journal Viewer will run on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT Workstation, and Windows 9x.

You can obtain the Windows Journal Viewer from Microsoft’s Download Center. The download is free. All it will cost you is the time it takes to download Setup.exe, which is a 7.9-Mb file. Save this file to a temporary directory on your workstation.

After the download completes, you can install Journal Viewer by running Setup. Like just about every other Windows program you’ve installed, Setup starts a wizard that walks you through the entire process of installing Journal Viewer. Follow the instructions on screen, clicking Next to navigate through the wizard. The only possible gotcha is where you have to specify the location of the Journal Viewer files. You can change the location if you want or just accept the default location. When the wizard finishes, you can start using Journal Viewer.

Running Journal Viewer
To start Journal Viewer, you can either double-click on a .jnt file e-mailed from a Journal-using coworker or click Start | Programs | Windows Journal Viewer. When you do, you’ll see the screen shown in Figure C, clearly displaying the .jnt file as created by the original user.

Figure C
You can see the Journal file just as it was created using the Viewer.

As you can see by the figure, the file you open is Read-Only. That’s because the Viewer does as the name suggests—it only views files—you can’t change them.

However, Journal Viewer does give you a few additional handy tricks. You can resize the Viewer window, and when you do, Viewer will automatically scale the .jnt file, leaving the image readable with minimal distortion as you resize the window. By selecting Zoom from the View menu, you can zoom in or out of the document to get a better view. Viewer does a respectable job of minimizing distortion during the zoom as well. You can also print out the Journal file, just as if you had your own Tablet PC.

Finally, you can display a dual-page version of the screen, as shown in Figure D, by selecting Two Pages from the View menu. This will allow you to view multiple pages of the original .jnt file without having to do a lot of scrolling.

Figure D
You can view multiple pages at the same time using the Dual Page option.

That’s all there is to it
Windows Journal Viewer is a handy utility for non-Tablet PC users to have, especially if they want to share Journal data with users who do have Tablet PCs. Instead of isolating data on Tablet PCs or having Journal data exported to less-than-stellar formats, you can deploy the Windows Journal Viewer to preserve the data and its usefulness at the same time.