Re: NTLK Some technoquestions

From: Bill Davis (
Date: Wed Dec 15 1999 - 02:51:18 EST

On 12/13/99 10:41 AM, []

>>1. sometime ago one guy wrote to list that microsoft hired xerox parc's
>>veterans (what _names_i_don't know? maybe like larry tesler) to develope
>>new generation of pen-based tablet ("pen computer"). i have lost my copy of
>>this thread. maybe someone post it to me or have another detailed
>>information about that event/news?
>I posted the article, which is still available for purchase from The New
>York Times on the Web for about US $2.50. (It first appeared around
>mid-to-late August, I believe.) Unfortunately, I've long since discarded
>my copy (I couldn't even recall who the two people involved were) and I
>don't think the list was being archived at that point. And that's the last
>I've heard of it.

Here it is from my digest archives:

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 14:57:28 -0400
From: Brian Pearce <>
Subject: Microsoft's Tablet (from The New York Times)
Message-ID: <v04205503b3f1d56badaf@[]>

I'll be damned if I'm going to pay $2.50 to read a piece from
 paper without sharing it with someone else...


Microsoft Brings In Top Talent To Pursue Old Goal: The Tablet


Hoping to fulfill a dream that has eluded the industry for nearly three=
 decades, a team of designers from the Microsoft Corporation is trying to=
 create a so-called tablet computer. The portable, wireless, keyboardless=
 device would be about the size and weight of a writing tablet and be=
 intended to serve most of a person's everyday computing and Net-surfing

Microsoft, which has no set timetable or manufacturing plans for the
 computer, knows that success is far from certain. ''This is a long-haul=
 effort and the road in the past has been fraught with conspicuous=
 failures,'' said Dick Brass, the company's vice president for emerging

But betting that past computer-tablet stumbles like AT&T's Eo and Apple=
 Computer's Newton were simply ideas too far ahead of their technological=
 times, Microsoft has bolstered its team with two legendary computer=
 innovators, Butler Lampson and Chuck Thacker.

The pair were part of a group that helped pioneer some of the most
 ideas in the personal computer industry back in the 1970's as
 at the Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center in California. It
 at PARC that such innovations as the computer mouse, the Ethernet PC=
 networking system and the what-you-see-is-what-you-get screen display
 word processing were developed -- although it would be other companies,=
 like Apple, the 3Com Corporation and Microsoft that would turn those
 into commercially viable products.

One PARC concept from that era that has yet to bear commercial fruit,=
 however, is the tablet computer, though no one is blaming Mr. Lampson
 Mr. Thacker.

''If they're going to take another whack at this, there aren't two better=
 guys to do it,'' said John Shoch, a former member of the Xerox PARC team=
 who is now a venture capitalist. ''Butler and Chuck are superb designers
 the broadest sense of the word.''

Mr. Thacker, for his part, says that idea of a tablet computer may now be=
 ripe enough to bear fruit. ''This has been something that people have
 taking runs at for almost 30 years now,'' he said. ''But the confluence
 technologies is happening that may finally make it possible.''

Mr. Thacker, 56, and Mr. Lampson, 55, were part of a group, led by the=
 computer scientist Alan Kay, that set out in 1971 to build a portable=
 computing machine they called a Dynabook that would enable a user to
 wirelessly connected to a world of information. As graduate student at
 University of Utah, Mr. Kay had written his doctoral thesis about such a=
 machine, which he then called the Sketchpad.

''I remember people telling Alan he was crazy,'' said Adele Goldberg, who=
 helped manage the Xerox PARC effort and is now a Silicon Valley software=
 developer and consultant. (Mr. Kay is now a researcher at the Walt
 Company's Imagineering laboratory.) ''We look back and think, well, we
 just a little too early,'' Ms. Goldberg said.

The PARC group developed a programming system called Smalltalk and a
 of prototype computers that they referred to as ''interim Dynabooks.''
 these efforts, like commercial flops that followed, were hampered by=
 limitations of the software and hardware arts at the time.

In the past few years, however, the success of the 3Com's hand-held Palm=
 Pilot ''digital assistants'' -- which use simple handwriting
 perform simple computing and have rudimentary communications
 -- have helped revived industry hopes for a more powerful, full-fledged=
 tablet computer.

''We're trying to see if we can produce a tablet PC and the software for
 that will be sufficiently powerful and intuitive and inexpensive to
 the imagination and the marketplace,'' said Mr. Brass, who formed the=
 Microsoft tablet team in March and last month recruited Mr. Lampson and
 Thacker from other parts of the company.

A portable tablet computer might finally be able to replace the keyboards
 today's portable machines with either handwriting or speech input, Mr.=
 Brass said.

He acknowledged past commercial failures, including Apple's Newton, the
 Corporation (whose technology was used in the abortive AT&T Eo) and even
 Microsoft project of a decade ago called Pen Windows. But Mr. Brass said=
 the time might now be right to build a kind of computer that many
 executives, including William H. Gates, Microsoft's chairman, have said=
 will eventually replace the current desktop standard.

''A lot of things have changed,'' Mr. Brass said. ''Display technology
 gotten cheaper and the processors are now probably fast enough.''

Mr. Brass -- who was an early software developer in the personal computer=
 industry and then a vice president at the data-base software giant, the=
 Oracle Corporation -- joined Microsoft two years ago to lead an
 book effort. Part of that work has included the company's recently=
 introduced Cleartype, a software approach to improving the readability
 fonts on flat panel computer displays -- whether electronic books or=
 portable computers.

With Microsoft set to announce its electronic book plans this week at the=
 Seybold Publishing Conference technology conference in San Francisco,
 Brass said that he had been shifting his focus recently to the company's=
 effort to design a new class of computer embodying many of the features=
 envisioned in the original Xerox Dynabook.

It was only late last month that he asked Mr. Lampson and Mr. Thacker to=
 join the tablet team.

Mr. Thacker, who left a position at the Digital Equipment Corporation=
 laboratory in Palo Alto to join Microsoft two years ago, has been
 at a new Microsoft research laboratory he helped set up in Britain. Mr.=
 Lampson, who also previously worked at Digital Equipment, came to
 four years ago to work with Nathan Myhrvold, who recently took a leave
 absence as the company's head of research.

Microsoft has no plans to begin manufacturing computers, Mr. Brass said.
 if the tablet effort succeeds, he said, the company will probably form=
 partnerships with hardware companies to build and sell the systems.

The new tablet project is small by Microsoft standards, said another=
 Microsoft developer who spoke on condition that he not be identified. He=
 said it was not yet clear whether the research project would garner the=
 resources that Microsoft throws at major projects, which frequently
 hundreds of developers.

But Mr. Thacker, who was one of the two principal hardware designers of
 Xerox Alto, a prototype computer that was the first ''interim
 does not seem concerned about whether Microsoft is committed to this

''I've always wanted this kind of device,'' he said, ''and in systems=
 research one of the most motivating things is that you want the device

And now, many people in the computer industry and at Microsoft believe
 there is a convergence of a number of technologies, including display,=
 processing, battery and storage that will finally pave the way for=
 commercial tablet computers.

Tablet computing will be pervasive, Mr. Lampson said. ''I think this will
 the way most people interact with the Net and with the rest of the=
 computing universe as well.''
============= END ARTICLE ========

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