Tuesday, March 8, 2005

A Bit of History

I have been watching pen based computing since before the days of Windows for Pen Computing, which was released in 1992 (I think--that was a long time ago). Anyway I'd followed it in the trades before that but PenWindows was the first one I was able to get my hands on. I was fascinated, and saw a lot of potential, but given the state of both the hardware and the software, that potential was never to be realized in that incarnation.

I got excited again when I got my Palm Pilot, and later my Pocket PC. The experience was a big improvement in many ways, but the size and other limitations seemed to constrain these platforms to certain specialized uses only.

Conventional wisdom is that Microsoft requires three tries to get software right. I think their pen interface efforts follow this pattern. PenWindows = version 1. Windows CE = version 2. That makes the Tablet PC OS version 3, and it is a winner. Not finished, plenty of room for improvement, but stable, usable, and ready (enough) for prime time.

For an excellent history of pen computing, and some intelligent commentary, check out Dan Bricklin's site, http://www.bricklin.com/tabletcomputing.htm.

I've been IT Director at Vermont Academy for 7 years and consulted with them for several years prior to that. In that time, while I have seen some potential for technology in classrooms and on campus, we have not aggressively pursued wiring to the pillow, extensive classroom use of technology, or particularly innovative academic uses at all. Oh, some of our faculty, to be sure, have used computers in various ways, but we have generally not pushed it. We did not wire to the pillow when that became all the craze, students did not connect their laptops to our campus network, classrooms did not have projectors in them, etc. (Please don't think this is because I am one of those IT guys who merely resists change. I worked for one of them once. Uh-uh, that's not me. I love tech and geek toys as much as the next guy. It is just that we had valid reasons to hold off.)

All of this has been changed with the advent of Tablet PCs. Our former logic no longer applies because the rules have changed in various ways. Some of the new rationale was applicable with notebooks, of course, but it wasn't compelling enough to bring about the sea change in direction that we have undertaken. In some of my next articles, I will go into some of these reasons in more detail and share our logic then and now.

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