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).


Tip

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.