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Windows XP, Tablet PC Edition, is Windows XP on steroids. It supports extra hardware—most importantly, the digitizer—and features both handwriting and voice recognition.

Whoa—before you get too excited, I'd better warn you that the tablet PC is not designed to magically take all of your scrawls and turn them into perfect text on the fly. Rather, the idea is to integrate digital ink, and handle it on its own terms.

You can use the Write Anywhere feature to enter text by hand and have it converted to typewriting in an application (see Figure 1).

Figure 1Figure 1 Write anywhere on the screen and text lands in the document, or you can tap out your text on the onscreen keyboard.

It's amazing how well it interprets even the most disgusting scrawls. But when you boot the operating system, the first hint you have that it's not garden-variety Windows XP is an onscreen keyboard and writing area(the input panel) that appears at the bottom of the display (shown in Figures 1 and 2). If you're running an application that isn't pen-enabled and get impatient with iffy handwriting interpretation, you can tap out the letters on this keyboard. The input panel also provides a handwriting input area (see Figure 3). You can configure it to quietly shrink to an icon in the Quick Launch area of the taskbar, accessible with a quick tap of the stylus.

Figure 2Figure 2 The input panel allows you to send your scribbles to any application.

Figure 3Figure 3 Decisions, decisions; how do you want the handwriting recognition to behave?

Microsoft provides an application, Windows Journal, that accepts digital ink on its own terms, saving handwritten documents, drawings, and notes, and even making them searchable (see Figure 4). You can convert them to text by "lassoing" the candidates for interpretation and clicking a menu selection. For non-tablet owners, there's a Journal viewer so you can share your scribbles directly.

Figure 4Figure 4 Search handwritten documents for text.

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