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Microsoft taps CEOs to test tablet PCs

The tech titan plans to hand out tablet PCs made by Acer to attendees at its CEO Summit, giving top-level executives a chance to toy with the new technology.

Microsoft is planning to hand out tablet PCs to attendees at its CEO Summit on Wednesday, giving top-level executives a chance to test-drive the new technology.

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Gates pitches tablet PCs to top CEOs
Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft
With its Tablet PC software, the tech titan is aiming to boost the appeal of pen-based devices by making them more in keeping with full-fledged notebook computers. The latest version combines Microsoft's Windows XP operating system with a pen interface and handwriting-recognition software. Devices using the software will have special displays but otherwise use standard notebook processors and other PC components, which will help to cut down on costs.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates promoted the technology at last fall's Comdex show, holding it up as a sign of hope amid a declining PC market and an economic downturn. Compaq Computer, NEC, Toshiba, Intel and other companies all showed off prototypes at the event.

More recently, Motion Computing, a start-up founded by former Dell Computer executives, announced plans to manufacture tablet PC devices starting later this year. Other companies are expected to make similar hardware announcements next month at the PC Expo show.

At Microsoft's CEO conference, the more than 100 attendees will receive beta versions of tablet devices, a Microsoft representative said. The tablet PCs will be used in conjunction with smart cards, that will identify each CEO with his or her specific machine, and will provide access to slides and other presentation materials. The executives will be able to take notes on the devices using the pens, and save the information through a universal serial bus "keychain" storage device, the representative said.

Microsoft said that the tablets being handed out Wednesday are made by Acer, which is calling them the TravelMate 100.

Despite occasional hoopla over pen-based machines, consumers and other technology buyers have been lukewarm toward the idea. IBM recently phased out its ThinkPad TransNote, a machine that captured handwriting written with a special pen, and Sony put the kibosh on its high-end Vaio Slimtop Pen Tablet PC.