Even Ars Technica doesn’t know Windows tablets

I am disappointed with Ars Technica this morning. In fairness, that’s largely because I hold the site in such high regard. As a “long form” blog, they typically deliver information that is well-researched and informed. Their analysis on the HP Slate, however, misses on a few details.

That’s not to say the overall analysis of the prototype caught on video is unfair. Quite the contrary, the write-up hits several important points. Most of it is on target. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and their analysis on the Windows-specific features overlooks some of them. Running down the list.

“The enterprise targeting is also apparent; there’s a dedicated ctrl-alt-del button, to accommodate the Windows default of requiring the magic keystroke to log on in domain environments.”

Technically correct, but the dedicated button should not be taken as “enterprise targeting”. It has been, as I mentioned yesterday, a part of Microsoft’s Tablet PC spec from the beginning, regardless of market. As Josh Einstein explained, Ctrl-Alt-Del is also known as the “secure attention sequence” and “SAS is the only keystroke that cannot be trapped or simulated in Windows so when you press it, you know you’re looking at a bona fide login screen.” This is why it cannot be entered through an on-screen keyboard. It is an important security feature that was previously required on every Windows-based tablet, enterprise, consumer, or other. It does not indicate a target market.

“…it [the on-screen keyboard] doesn’t appear automatically when text entry is appropriate: a hardware button must be pressed to make the keyboard appear.”

While most of their critique of the on-screen keyboard is unfortunately true (the touch keyboard always shows up as floating on the Fujitsu T900, even after I switch it to docked; behaves perfectly when launched by pen), the hardware button is not required to launch the keyboard. In the video, you can see the on-screen keyboard launch button pop up when a text field is tapped, and the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) is floating on the left side the whole time. The keyboard button is a convenience (my first Tablet PC had one) but not a requirement.

The article also points to problems when scrolling. It’s true there are problems seen in the video. I also won’t argue that scrolling by touch in Windows 7 is perfect. What they don’t mention is the reviewer did not remove the screen overlay, a standard protector for shipping purposes. Like the plastic wrap on any newly shipped display, this overlay is not meant for use with the product. That’s an important caveat when judging the video.

Again, these are small details compared against the entirety of the article and should not detract from it, but small details can be important. My greater point is that if these can slip through on Ars Technica, what I consider one of the best tech blogs out there, then it can only be worse everywhere else outside our niche community (and it usually is). It’s disheartening given the years some of us in the mobile PC community have put into sharing and writing about Windows-based tablets, but it is what it is. All we can do now is keep at it and try to set the record straight as the mainstream becomes aware of Tablet PCs.