Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tablet PC: Vista vs. XP - A Student's Prospective

In my earlier post (iTunes is Evil and Blogger is Broken) I mentioned that this post was lost. Apparently Blogger is just a little cranky. When I logged in today I noticed that the post was back, the entire thing! I am a little relieved that I didn't lose this post because it is on a rather interesting topic.

I've used Windows XP Tablet Edition for two semesters in college and now I am in my third semester and have switched to Windows Vista. I've own a Toshiba Protege M405 which is a decent tablet to work with. In my earlier post about about Tablet PC Hardware I discussed Vista and XP but mostly with regard to battery life.

First, I'll discuss some of my basic recommendations. Cassie, who also has tablet (Gateway), originally had only 512 MB of RAM. It is possible to run decently with only 512 MB but I would not recommend it. My tablet shipped with 1GB, but even under XP this was not enough for my multitasking needs. When I upgraded to Vista, I ran with only 1 GB because it took a while to get my RAM to install. With 2GB of RAM under Vista, a computer seems to work remarkably better. I would not recommend anyone use Vista without 2 GB.

Using XP and Office 2003

For classes I would run several programs concurrently. Besides all of my background processes (Skype, Carbonite, Hamachi, ext.), I would use Outlook 2003 and OneNote 2003 during class. I wouldn't recommend having too many extra programs running (Firefox?) because it is difficult enough using a tablet to take notes. Distractions do not help, and they also help drain the battery at an accelerated rate.

Taking notes during class is only half of the picture, the other half is using those notes for homework and studying. While I am studying or doing homework and I need to reference my notes, I typically run Firefox and iTunes. This is in addition to Outlook and OneNote. Also, depending on the homework, I'll have Journal Note Writer and maybe even Excel, Word or PowerPoint. With only 1 GB of RAM under XP, resources start to run a little low rather quickly. However, I never ran into any serious problems, although I always wanted more RAM.

Using Vista and OneNote 2007

I haven't upgraded to Office 2007 yet, although I am running OneNote 2007. The difference between Office 2003 and 2007 is incredible. The restructuring of the notebook system makes it much easier to manage classes and and keep organized. Also, in general there are small usability tweaks that make the experience a little more pleasant. While OneNote is still not the perfect tool for a student, it is the best thing to use at the moment.

Since I'm focusing on students I should probably mention Windows Journal, Journal for short. While I wouldn't recommend using this to take actual class notes it is perfect for homework assignments. Even for my classes where I can't submit assignments digitally, I like to write them on my tablet and then print them out. There are several advantages to doing work on a tablet. I should also mention that Journal is also available under XP and that Journal files can be read from a non tablet (Windows) computer with the correct, free, software.

There are several benefits to using Journal for homework. First off, having digital ink is just a lot of fun. Seriously, it makes writing very dynamic. It is easy to use multiple colors and moving and resizing is possible in ways that just are not available using normal paper. Also, turning in assignments means you don't lose a copy of your work. This is especially useful for studying.

In a later post I'll try and talk about DyKnow, a propriety software title use by UofL's Speed School as a method of distributing notes in class.

Overall, I am happy I upgraded from XP to Vista on my tablet. There are some serious problems with Vista, but in general it has been a good experience. The handwriting recognition and the tablet features in Vista are far improved over XP. Although battery life will suffer, the trade off is worth it.

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