Previous incarnations of the Tablet PC -- which uses a pen-like stylus to input information directly on screen -- have used their own custom version of Windows as an operating system, but Vista is designed to run unchanged on conventional PCs, notebooks and tablets.
That could provide the opportunity for tablets to be more widely adopted, especially if businesses choose to initially deploy Vista on new hardware rather than upgrading existing desktops, a strategy recommended by many analysts. "Enterprises should start to introduce the OS on new hardware, rather than upgrading existing XP systems with a large migration project," Forrester analyst Simon Yates wrote in an advisory to enterprise customers.
Microsoft has promoted the Tablet PC concept heavily since 2002, but with generally limited success. Early models were attacked for poor processing power, a necessary compromise to ensure reasonable battery life. Stylus-only designs have also generally been discarded in favour of combo approaches which also feature a built-in keyboard.
While tablet machines still represent just a small fraction of the overall market, vendors say that enthusiasm for them is growing. In education markets, takeup of tablet PCs in school orders was around 20% two years ago, Toshiba product marketing manager Justin White told IT Wire. In this year's orders, that number had risen to 50%, he said.