Windows XP Recovery Console- the ultra-portables best friend

Ultra-portable computers like the Sony U-50/70 and the OQO share one trait in common- the lack of an included bootable optical drive. This can be important when suddenly you have a hard disk or operating system problem and you realize you cannot boot from the Windows XP CD to attempt some sort of recovery procedure. At this point you are dead in the water- or are you?The developers of Windows XP included a mechanism to help the distressed user diagnose and possibly repair some nasty problems, even if there is no CD drive to boot from. Unfortunately, the Windows Recovery Console is not installed by default when you install Windows XP and unless you manually install it you won’t have it when you most need it. You can run the Recovery Console from the Windows XP CD but installing it to the hard drive insures you always have it with you when you are mobile and you might not have the CD drive for troubleshooting. The Recovery Console is such a vital troubleshooting tool it is one of the first things I install on any computer and it has saved my butt several times over the years. Once the Recovery Console is installed it creates a tiny (7 MB) partition with core OS files. Booting the computer results in the appearance of a boot screen option where you can either let normal Windows XP boot (default) or select the Recovery Console. If you select to boot into the Recovery Console you end up with a DOS-like terminal with some key commands at your disposal to let you check and repair your disk, alter your boot configuration, and work with your partitions. Since the Recovery Console is its own separate boot partition you can work with your main drive without things being locked. A complete list of commands and parameters that are available from the Recovery Console can be found in the Windows XP help system under “Recovery Console”.For detailed installation instructions just continue reading below.
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EverNote public beta

EvernoteI have been following the EverNote web site for a few weeks now since first hearing about their revolutionary note-taking program EverNote. EverNote is a lot like OneNote from Microsoft but with the unique difference of utilizing a time line metaphor for searching notes. EverNote also creates automatic categories optionally that makes organizing and searching notes even easier than OneNote. Like OneNote you can drag and drop just about anything into an EverNote making it very easy to capture information for future reference.Tablet PC owners will be happy to learn that EverNote supports inking. While EverNote doesn’t use the inking technology in the Tablet OS it is based on the engine behind ritePen. A welcome feature in EverNote is the ability of the program to refine hand-drawn shapes into something that looks better.Looks really promising and I’m going to give it a whirl.(EverNote via theofficeweblog)

PDAs, Tablets, and the art of not selling

The shrinking PDA (market)Clie_uz90_1This year has been a disappointing one for consumers with the exit from the US market of some major handheld producers. Sony led the pack with the announcement earlier this year they were pulling the Clie line of Palm-OS based handhelds from the world market and were heading back to Japan. Toshiba did not surprise anyone with the expected non-announcement they would not sell their latest Windows Mobile based Pocket PC in the US or UK markets. And yesterday Sharp announced they would stop selling their popular Zaurus line of Linux-based PDAs and go back to Japan too.E830_toshiba_1The assumption that followers of the PDA world would logically make is that the consumer market is not large enough to support major efforts from big OEMs. Either the profit margins are too thin to allow these big consumer electronic companies to feel comfortable in the non-Japanese markets or they can’t sell a large enough volume to turn the corner to profitability. Or perhaps both. We know as consumers that competition is a good thing and leads to innovation and, well, choices. So is the PDA market really shrinking? Or is it impossible to generate sales numbers of a sufficient volume to justify selling new PDAs in the US? I don’t claim to know the OEM’s business better than they do but I can throw out some observations that I think are a definite factor.Your PDA can do that?PDAs at the base level are consumer electronics, much like the iPod or other MP3 players being introduced almost every day. You see audio players everywhere you turn- the internet, TV ads, magazine ads, on the street. Stay with me and you’ll see where I’m heading with this. I realize that PDAs are now sophisticated little computers that can do much more than play music. But how many people on the street know they are fantastic MP3 players? How many times have you been listening to music on your PDA while doing something else and had someone in public tell you “I didn’t know it could do that”? Why don’t they know that? Because there is no mainstream advertising. OEMs have been happy to depend on PDA enthusiasts to do most of the marketing for their products. I can’t remember a single advertising campaign on television aimed at showing prospective consumers what these devices can easily do. Apple got it with the iPod ad campaigns they’ve been running non-stop since the introduction of the iPod. It’s no wonder they are dominating the portable music player market segment. Everybody knows what an iPod does. Even Aunt Ruthie knows what an iPod does. But I keep hearing over and over “I didn’t know it could do that” in reference to something I am doing on my PDA. No advertising from PDA makers equals low sales. I’m no marketing expert but that’s pretty basic stuff.What if you had a portable music player that could surf the web, check your email, let you look up those sales figures you need, read ebooks, browse magazines, remind you of an upcoming appointment, give you that phone number you need, play video games, do crossword puzzles, look up reference material, etc. etc. The average PDA today can do ALL THAT and more but the only consumers who know that are dedicated enthusiasts who already own one. Why have OEMs failed to educate the neophyte with proper advertising? Beats me. But it doesn’t take a genius to understand why they don’t generate sales volume. Ignorance equals low sales.An intelligent television campaign would indoctrinate tens of thousands of consumers who have no intention of buying a PDA today. How can they buy one without knowing they need one? I know that TV ads are expensive but we’re talking a huge untapped market here. All it takes is turning on the light bulb that always follows the “I didn’t know it could do that” and watching the face of the enlightened. In just a few seconds they “get it”. That’s what a proper ad campaign can do for PDA sales. It baffles me why we don’t see ANY mainstream advertising for PDAs. It’s almost like OEMs sit around in management meetings whining “but selling them is SO hard”. Give me a break. The first OEM in the US that conducts a major TV ad campaign for PDAs will get market share. I am convinced of that.Wow, I could use a Tablet PCThe exact same arguments apply to the Tablet PC. We hear and read continually that Tablet PC sales are “disappointing” or “lower than expected”. We hear all the reasons that are always rolled out to explain the low sales. Too expensive. Anemic hardware. My handwriting is too bad for a Tablet. I don’t see the benefit of inking. But when you listen to Tablet PC owners who are continually approached by people who have never had the opportunity to see a Tablet PC in use you get the same affect as the PDA users. “Wow, I didn’t know it could do that” is the litany heard over and over in these situations as people who know nothing about Tablets see the benefit for themselves. I could beat my head against the wall every time I hear this.Nec_tabletAdvertise, companies. Go on TV and show what your Tablet PC can do. Educate people about the benefits of your product on the most effective advertising medium, television. Have you ever seen a TV commercial showing the advantage of using a Tablet PC in a given situation? I’ve never seen one yet in real world situations prospective consumers are continually blown away by the utility of the Tablet PC. What’s wrong with this picture? Show them your stuff and they will buy.And HP or Toshiba once you have a real ad campaign extolling the virtues of your Tablet PCs carry it further and run a few infomercials. I know, these are beneath real products, right? Infomercials are run thousands of times a day in countless TV markets because they work. They are effective at selling products that require a little more time to show the prospective buyer exactly how the product can benefit them. This format is perfect for selling Tablet PCs because I guarantee in a 30 minute infomercial you can sell thousands of the little jewels to people who otherwise would never have even considered buying one. It only takes showing them, people. Help the enthusiasts out, for once.

The Untapped Tablet PC Market

Tablet_pc(an open request to OEMs and Microsoft)Tablet PC users get it. They have experienced first hand how a well designed Tablet PC can enhance their daily productivity. The ability to use ink intelligently in most programs can be a big time saver and allow the creative process to be more focused. So why are Tablet PCs not selling as well as expected? A lot of articles have been written trying to address why the Tablet PC has not made a bigger impact in the market, and most of them give a number of reasons why more consumers are not snapping these portable computers up. Most of the reasons cited are valid and the major ones can be summed up like this:· Size- most Tablet PCs are just too big for the average user to carry everywhere. Sure the executive can carry it around to meetings all day and take them in place of a laptop on business trips but most Tablets are too big to carry everywhere. When’s the last time you saw someone using a Tablet PC in Starbuck’s or outside of the workplace? The size of standard Tablets also makes it somewhat of a big production to pull one out in meetings which puts off some prospective customers.· Weight- this goes hand in hand with the size issue above. It is a hassle to carry three pounds of anything all the time, and eventually users will elect to leave the Tablet so they don’t have to carry it around on short trips.· Battery life- great improvements have been made in this area over the last two years but let’s face it, it takes a lot of juice to power the bigger screens we see on most Tablets today. You are still lucky to eke 3 or 4 hours out of a normal Tablet which makes mobility a little harder. How many times have you used your Tablet heavily on a given day and then sweated out the end of the day hoping you would not run dry? Or elected to not pull out the Tablet for less important tasks so you wouldn’t drain the battery. Or frantically had to look for a power outlet to charge the Tablet, which means you had to carry the power adapter with you.· Price- Tablet PCs are now the hardware equivalent of laptops with the addition of the active digitizer needed to take advantage of the Tablet OS platform. This results in most Tablet PCs costing quite a bit more than laptops that have much better hardware specifications. It’s difficult for individuals to justify the premium and corporations are impacted even further when confronted with volume purchases.Handtops or Ultra-portable ComputersFew genres of computers have generated as much anticipation and excitement as the handtop. A handtop or Ultra-portable Computer (UPC) is basically the equivalent of a laptop in a near PDA form. The Sony U-50/70 which released in Japan earlier this year and the OQO which recently released for sale in the US have demonstrated clearly there is a big demand for very portable computers running Windows XP. Whole web sites have been established to follow this genre of computer and prospective customers have been almost fanatical waiting for the appearance of handtops en masse. There is a huge appeal to carrying your whole computer with you everywhere you go. So what does this have to do with the Tablet PC?U70_pics_024I am in a unique position to address this as I have been using a Sony U-70 running the Tablet OS for a few months. The Sony is slightly larger than a PDA, with a 5″ screen running at a resolution of 800×600. This little Tablet PC has been a tremendous boon to my mobile productivity, as it provides a full Tablet PC in a form that can be taken virtually anywhere. No big case to carry around, and it’s very unobtrusive to pull out anywhere and use. The small screen means good battery life, and it is a joy to ink away on this little powerhouse. But even with these benefits, all is not as perfect as it could be. I have given a lot of thought to how it could be improved, and as a result of that I think a new Tablet PC form could be easily done to address the improvements needed.Introducing the Mini TabletThe only problem with the small screen of the Sony is it can be difficult to do a lot of note-taking on the screen. The writing area is just a little bit too small to do a significant amount of inking into OneNote or Windows Journal, and this nullifies the single best advantage of a Tablet PC. I believe this shortcoming would be easy to address, and I propose a Mini Tablet. This Tablet would have the following general specs:Screen- a six to eight inch screen with an active digitizer like those found in standard Tablet PCs would alleviate the note-taking problem I have now on the Sony. This screen would also provide for a small enough form factor that will control the overall size, weight, and thickness of the Mini Tablet. This will keep the size of the Mini Tablet down to a perfect size for mobility.CPU- an Intel Dothan CPU operating at >1.5 GHz would make the Mini Tablet as powerful as any Tablet or laptop and would be more than adequate for virtually any task. The Dothan is a very power stingy processor that will aid in stretching the battery as long as possible, while keeping the heat down. This CPU would work with Intel’s integrated WiFi providing 802.11 a/b/g for mobile connectivity.OS- Full Windows XP Tablet OS 2005 should be standard. The Mini Tablet must be a full Tablet PC in function, if not size. It is important for users to be able to install any Windows XP program they want and take it with them. I cannot overstate how big a benefit this has been to me with the Sony. A stripped down version of the OS, something between Windows XP and Windows CE .NET, would not work. That would likely provide watered down software solutions that turns people off. You want to be able to use all your programs on the Mini Tablet that you currently use on your big system. No learning curve is important to win new customers. You must be able to work with all your documents with no compromises, and no synchronizing necessary.Memory- at least 512 MB of memory is needed to fully use multi-tasking in Windows XP and this should be the minimum. A gig would be better and a good option if space allowed.Joystick- one of the most useful features on the Sony U-70 is the trackpoint style joystick on the upper right of the computer. This feature coupled with two mouse buttons on the upper left makes it easy to pop the computer out for quick tasks without grabbing the pen. This is a huge time saver and the Mini Tablet can also benefit with the inclusion of this. The Sony also has a hardware button configured to instantly rotate the display from landscape to portrait (and back) which is crucial for the Mini Tablet. Many functions make better sense to do in portrait orientation and I suspect most note taking would be done in portrait. All hardware buttons should auto configure (user controllable) depending on screen orientation so they are always optimal no matter which way the screen is pointing. They rotate with the screen which makes sense. The Sony does this too very nicely.Page UP/DOWN rocker- this should be on the side of the Mini Tablet in portrait mode to make it easy to read ebooks and scroll vertically while web browsing. The Mini Tablet would be a perfect platform for reading ebooks and magazines and the inclusion of this simple feature would make that experience quite pleasurable.Hard drive- the hard drive needs to be at least 30 GB. The appearance of 0.85 inch drives should make this very easy to do and require little space and power. Toshiba expects to have a 60 GB version of their tiny drive by the end of this year which would be perfect and offer plenty of storage space.Bluetooth- the Mini Tablet needs Bluetooth to make it easy to work with cell phones for connectivity, and wireless keyboards and mice when mobile.Output jacks- headphone for MP3 playing during down time or when reading ebooks.Microphone- a good internal microphone is important to allow speech dictation as provided in the Tablet OS. It’s also important for recording meetings and interviews. The Sony lacks an internal microphone and it is sorely missed.CF/ SD slot- a CF Type II slot for using with Microdrives, I/O cards like GPRS. The CF and SD slots will make it easy to transfer information from digital cameras.Standby button- one of the most used buttons on the Sony is the Standby button, which does exactly what it says. The Sony will go into Standby within 2 – 3 seconds after pressing the button and the Mini Tablet needs this too. The power button should be configurable to go into Hibernate instead of power off if the user desires.USB 2.0- at least one USB port for connecting peripherals is crucial. It will likely be the only way to back up the device while traveling. A Firewire port would be nice to have, too. You need the ability to boot from an optical drive when traveling for emergencies whether via USB or the Firewire port.Dock- it is important with mobile devices that a dock be standard. The dock should be as small as the Mini Tablet is wide in landscape, and have all the requisite ports for hooking up USB and Firewire peripherals, keyboard, mouse, external monitor, and a CD/DVD drive. The dock should be a “smart” dock in that it makes it a simple matter of popping the Mini Tablet in and instantly connecting to all peripherals and the monitor. It would be nice to have a slot on the dock for charging an extra battery along with the Mini Tablet. Since the Mini Tablet configuration I’ve outlined here is “full-figured” it would be nice if the dock would drive two external monitors for a dual head setup. Consumers will pay a premium for a portable device if it can become their only system when docked. I predict one of the biggest hurdles that UPCs will face is the cost. Users find it hard to justify a full computer price for a portable computer that can’t become their only system. The Mini Tablet when docked should do anything a bigger system can do and do it well. The Sony does all of that now with the exception of driving dual external monitors which would be nice. It will drive the internal screen and an external monitor simultaneously, however the small internal screen doesn’t add much utility in this mode.Carrying case- the size of device I have described is perfect to fit in a zip up case that protects the Mini Tablet and carry anywhere. The case would be the size of daily planners that many people carry around anyway and would be easy to handle. It is important to make sure the Mini Tablet can be removed easily from the case for using in the hand like a standard Tablet. There should be a pop-up stand that props the Mini Tablet up in the case for using with a wireless keyboard and mouse while mobile.If you build it they will comeI am convinced there is a tremendous market for a Mini Tablet such as I have described in this article. I have experienced first-hand the utility you get with a complete Tablet in the palm of your hand. I have reveled in the ability to take a Mini Tablet almost everywhere, insuring I always have the ability to do something when I might otherwise be idle. I realize such a device would not be as cheap as some would like but I think it could be done much cheaper than standard Tablet PCs due to the much smaller screen.I see a lot of clamoring in the community for a small mobile device that is a complete computer in every respect. I have enjoyed the benefits of having one with me all the time when I need it. I am confident that such a device as the Mini Tablet would reach a lot of prospective customers that are currently passing the Tablet PC by. So, OEMs and Microsoft, are you listening?

New Energy Blue Theme Pack for Tablet PC

Energy_blue_themeMicrosoft has made a new theme pack available for the Tablet PC 2005 that is a very nice change from the standard Luna theme from Windows XP. The Energy Blue pack not only changes the coloring and wallpaper but even the interface itself gets a facelift once installed. Highly recommended for all Tablet owners.(Microsoft via Tablet PC Buzz)

A typical day with the Sony U-70

u70_pics_024A while back I outlined a typical work day for me and demonstrated how the Toshiba e-805 allowed me to be more productive given my mobile lifestyle. The VGA screen resolution on the Toshiba allowed me to leave my big laptop at home and use the e-805 exclusively during the day. This combination of the e-805 with a wireless keyboard goes a good 90% towards leaving the laptop at home all the time. As many of you are aware I recently got my hands on a Sony U-70 ultra-portable computer (UPC) that I’ve converted to a true Tablet PC. I’ve been using the U-70 for a month now and felt it was time for me to share with you how the U is being used in my typical work day and let you see if you think it stacks up.
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