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A Tale of Two Tablet PCs and a Theatre



Constructioncontinues_20014_SmallAs many of you know, for the last month or so I’ve been extraordinarily busy with the renovation and re-opening of the Wayside Theatre where I work. I hope it goes without saying for GBM readers that while I was in the middle of construction, rehearsals, and dealing with building inspectors that I had my mobile arsenal close at hand to help me get through the work load.

In fact, I shifted things up a bit and set my workhorse, the Lenovo ThinkPad X61, aside to focus on using two other Tablet PCs during that time. They were the Motion F5 Slate Tablet PC and the HP tx2051. I used both in different scenarios, at different times, for different chores, and with different success rates.

The Setup

The Motion was running Windows XP and the HP tx2501 was running Vista 64bit. On both Tablet PCs I had essentially the same applications installed with one exception. This included Microsoft Office 2007 (including OneNote 2007), and EverNote Beta as my primary tools. I had BlueBeam PDF Revu on the Motion and PDF Annotator on the HP for document markup and signing. I also integrated Windows Live Mesh into my arsenal when that came along. What a boon that turned out to be. My primary tasks as I saw them going into this period were going to be:

  • Note taking
  • Document creation
  • Document review and signing
  • Email correspondence
  • Research

Keep in mind that during any day I wore multiple hats. Far too many, as a matter of fact. My days would go from dealing with contractors and inspectors in the morning, to union, board, and contract negotiations, copy creation, financial management throughout the day, and then finally rehearsals in the evening.

The Execution Plan

Motioncomputingf5tabletko9My plan was to use the Motion when I was on my feet in the theatre and the HP while at my desk. The HP is quite heavy to lug around and the Motion has rugged qualities well suited for the dusty days during construction. There was a lot of keyboard work creating documents that I needed to do at my desk as well. (Note: I also used my iMac for some work at my desk.) I was going to go back and forth between EverNote and OneNote for a lot of my work. This was primarily because most of the early work on the renovation and construction (this project had been going on for over a year) had already been well started in OneNote 2007 and I had an organization system there that was working for me. The EverNote Beta came along later in that process. It was going to be my rehearsal note taking tool. I set up shared OneNote Notebooks for my work in that tool, and would use EverNote’s syncing capabilities when I was in that environment. I was also using both tools on my Sprint Mogul via OneNote Mobile and EverNote’s Windows Mobile option. EverNote far surpasses OneNote in this mobile situation.

For email I still planned to use Outlook as my chief repository. Again, much of what I had been doing for over a year had already nestled into a structure there and I didn’t want to break that down. That said, I planned to experiment with using GMail quite a bit throughout the process. At one point I actually switched over to GMail’s iMap solution, but a few bugs appeared and I went back to a POP3 option and stuck with that throughout the period. Note: Be very careful changing tools and methods during an already stress inducing workload.

The Kink in the Works

Hptx2000_2Initially everything worked well and as I had planned. But a kink was thrown into the works when we had a router fail on the theatre network. We had it replaced that same day, but even now we are unable to access the signal in the theatre as we were before, even with a signal booster. We haven’t tracked that down yet, and figure it has to do with a construction anomaly. We did move a few walls around. I hope we do some day soon as this kind of connectivity is a key to our work. This meant that a lot of the work I was doing in OneNote 2007 and EverNote couldn’t get synced over on the spot via WiFi and that became a bit frustrating. I found myself frequently having to run outdoors and stand in a certain place on the sidewalk in order to get a signal strong enough to sync up or send or receive email. Connectivity is such a key and without it, let’s face it, you’re up a creek. As an example, our production of Always Patsy Cline features some projections that were basically created as slides in Powerpoint. As a par tof our renovation, we installed a computer to run the new projector we purchased from Christie, and I had hoped that a wireless solution for moving and editing files would work to transfer the files back and forth. (It is almost impossible to edit the slides from our control booth as you can’t see the full screen from that perspective.) Without that connectivity we had to rely on thumb drives to move the files back and forth.

Now intriguingly everyone working at the theatre discovered a pleasant surprise. Apparently from knocking down and replacing the back walls of the theatre and putting a new roof on, we are now able to receive excellent cell phone signals in the theatre. Go figure. It was a dead zone before, and whenever someone would get a call we were used to see them running for the street to keep from losing the signal. Not anymore. With this new discovery, I’d tether up to the Sprint Mogul and get connected that way. Coincidentally, even though we ask our patrons to turn off their cell phones, our ushers are seeing more of them texting and using the devices now that they can access them in the theatre.

How Did The Two Tablet PCs Fare?

I had the luxury of putting both machines through a real grind over a period of months, and I’m going to restate something many already know. Again, the Motion was running XP and the HP was running Vista. Over the course of time both machines began to slow down, almost the way a machine does when you are constantly installing and uninstalling new software. That wasn’t the case here though as I was far too busy to indulge in much software experimentation. But I did notice that things got considerably slower on both machines over the course of this work. The Motion fared better here than the HP. Yes, I know we all learned to live with that with XP, but it seems the same thing is true of Vista as well. The longer you work with it, the slower it gets.

With the exception of things gradually slowing down, using the Motion was one of the best rehearsal note taking experiences I have ever enjoyed. I used EverNote primarily for that task. Being able to grab that handle and run around the rehearsal room was a joy. The device is almost a perfect weight for me. The camera also came in handy for taking construction photos that I would send to contractors or vendors when the case arose. When I worked in OneNote or Outlook I really enjoyed the process. I’d love to have one of these Motion slates powerful enough to run Vista well to take advantage of the Tablet PC enhancements that it offers. A couple of niggles about the Motion:

  • I really miss a button or dial to adjust the sound. 
  • I hate the fact that the screen is such a smudge magnet.

The HP tx2051 was a different case. Initially when I first got my hands on the evaluation unit it was fast. That AMD processor cranked things out very quickly. But as I used the machine more and more, things started to slow down. I found myself having to wait for considerable periods of time on booting up or returning from sleep. Opening Microsoft Outlook became a chore. I didn’t have time, or rather I didn’t take the time in the early going to try and strip out processes and applications, beyond the Norton Anti-Virus solution. But anyone using this device is going to see the same  applications, processes, and CRAPWARE running out of the box. HP’s constant reminders from its own software are nothing but a pain. For awhile I purposely didn’t turn them off to see how annoying they would become. The answer is very. I have to say that by the last two weeks of this marathon, I found myself really dreading opening up that device when I got to my desk. Fortunately, much of the work I needed to do at my desk, I could also do on the iMac and I found myself going to that more often than not in the later going. Notes and Documents that I was creating in the theatre were available via Windows Live Mesh or EverNote via the Web (not in OneNote though, unless I used them on the iMac via Vista installed on VMWare Fusion) and so I could work with them, when I could get connected.

Again, I want to stress that I think the slowdowns I experienced were more a fault of Microsoft’s operating systems than the hardware. That said, the machine isn’t usable without an OS. On the Motion it was easier to deal with. On the HP, it got to a point where I didn’t want to go there.

Biggest Discoveries and What I Need Going Forward

I’m no Kevin Tofel trying to live completely in the cloud. I have too many chores (desktop publishing is one) that just doesn’t allow that kind of approach in my job. Through the use of EverNote, Windows Live Mesh, and to a lesser extent OneNote Shared Folders, I was able to work quite successfully between various machines, and in fact, multiple platforms. GMail became a more than acceptable email solution for me, although I’m not sure I’m ready to toss Outlook out of the toolbox quite yet. Via Google Calendar Sync on the Tablets and Spanning Sync on the iMac, I was able to keep my calendars on all devices synchronized quite well.

For the near future at least, I hope I’m done building theatres while I continue to operate them, there are some things I see that are sorely needed for my mobile work flow in the future as we get back to the comparatively relaxed life of just doing plays.

Instant On. Whether this comes from Splashtop or SplashTop like scenarios as we are starting to see, it has got to happen. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to wait for a device to boot up or when there is work to be done.

Return from Sleep. By the same token, there has got to be a way to make this a better experience. But then, if a SplashTop like experience is added, that might chase some of those ““waiting forever to wake up blues” to go away in some instances. As I understand SplashTop at the moment, it won’t specifically fix this issue, but at least we would see quicker web access.

The Future of OneNote. I still love using OneNote 2007. Gosh, is it a great application. I have quite a few notebooks that chronicle this entire construction and renovation experience replete with notes, documents, photos, emails, you name it. But if they want to keep up, the OneNote Team is going to have to get serious about a real mobile and cross platform solution quickly. At first glance you might think OneNote 2007 and EverNote are the same type of beast, and in many respects they are. But they offer different sets of functionality and organizational methods. I love both applications. But the fact that I can work on any device I own with EverNote finds me going to that tool more and more. I dare say that if I had not been using OneNote 2007 as my project management tool, prior to discovering EverNote, I might have been very happy just to use EverNote. 

Build a Decent OS That Doesn’t Deteriorate Over Time Microsoft. I spend a good deal of time looking for and trying out new solutions for projects that I know are coming down the pike. In doing so I’ve junked up any number of machines. That wasn’t the case here, as I basically used these machines out of the box with the exception of Microsoft Office, EverNote, Windows Live Mesh, and the PDF solutions I mentioned.  While I understand the complicated nature of creating an OS that works in so many different scenarios, it seems to me that there must be some way for smart people to design a system that doesn’t deteriorate to a point that it basically becomes unusable without wiping things fresh and starting over. It makes you wonder if the people who create these tools actually use them.

Clean Up Those Screens. I’ve railed on this before. But it is high time that OEMs look for different and better solutions for their screens. It is embarassing to work for hours with one of these machines in one environment and then quickly have to jump into a meeting and find folks staring at the greasy, smudgy screen of your device.

Outlook: If Microsoft wants Outlook to continue to be a workhorse, they need to develop a strategy that minimizes the slowdown that program has when .pst files begin to get large. I don’t use an Exchange server and so my Outlook files are stored locally. That creates some problems, but it is what I do at the moment. I don’t dare toss an email away during the middle of a project. I don’t even empty my junk email box for fear of losing something that was mis-flagged as spam. Just like the OS, the longer you go with Outlook and the more you use it, the slower it executes. If they aren’t going to discover a solution to this, then this product will quickly become less useful to me. I use GMail more and more frequently and imagine that will continue. What I miss there are two things:

  • The ability to quickly Ink a reply as I can in Outlook.
  • I’m not a fan of GMail’s organizational structure.

Taking Notes. Both of these Tablet PCs offer great note taking and pen and ink functionality. Touch is the wave of the future as we all know. Don’t forget, Microsoft and OEMs, that there are some folks out here in the real world who actually need and use Tablet PCs with a stylus the way they were originally conceived to be used.



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