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Microsoft's long and tortured history in tablets

June 20, 2012 • Business


FILE- In an Oct. 21, 2003 file photo, a Dell Axim personal digital assistant, based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system, is shown in New York. For decades, the tablet computer was like a mirage in the technology industry: a great idea, seemingly reachable on the horizon, that disappointed as hopeful companies got closer.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — For decades, the tablet computer was like a mirage in the technology industry: a great idea, seemingly reachable on the horizon, that disappointed as hopeful companies got closer. Microsoft has experienced this cycle of hope and disappointment many times.

The device unveiled by the Redmond Wash.-based software giant on Monday —the Surface— isn’t the first tablet it envisioned. Indeed, the company’s engineers have been trying to reshape personal computing for as long as there’s been a PC.

The first PCs had keyboards, borrowed from the typewriter. But people quickly started wondering whether pens, which are more comfortable writing tools, wouldn’t be a better basis for personal computing.

Several companies worked pen-based computing in the late 1980s, and Microsoft jumped on the trend. By 1991, it released “Windows for Pen Computing,” an add-on to Windows 3.1 that let the operating system accept input from an active “pen” (really a stylus). Several devices used Microsoft’s software, and are recognizable as the ancestors of today’s tablets: They were square, portable slabs with a screen on one side. They weren’t designed to respond to finger-touches, however: the reigning paradigm was that of the notepad and pen.

The pen-computing fad subsided in the 90s. While PenWindows tablets got a lot of attention, mainstream computing remained stubbornly keyboard-based.

In 2002, Microsoft founder Bill Login to read more

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