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Vista gets hands-on with tablet PCs

New convertible tablet PCs take the stage with Vista at CES 2007.

With all the talk about Windows Vista and the new security features, Sidebar widgets and Aero interface, it's worth taking a moment to look at what new features Microsoft has cooked up for tablet users.

Tablet PCs are gaining in popularity, and the first two retail-ready Vista laptops we've looked at (the HP tx1000 and Toshiba Portege R400) are both convertible tablet models that take advantage of some of Vista's new tablet-friendly features.

Tablet users who spend a lot of time using a stylus as their input device will appreciate Pen Flicks, a Microsoft-designed system of shortcuts that lets you use a quick swipe of the stylus to navigate Web pages or documents. It's up to individual software apps to implement it, but most major productivity apps already have.

Previously, the large majority of tablets required the use of an active stylus. That means that touching the screen with anything other than the included stylus would have no effect. With Vista, Microsoft is encouraging hardware vendors to use touch-screen technology, where any object, such as a fingertip, can control the screen. We've seen this already in the HP tx1000, and other vendors have told us Microsoft is working with them to implement touch screens in future tablets.

Sideshow is a nice bit of visual flair we're going to see a lot more of this year. Vista allows computer makers to easily incorporate a second display, such as a tiny LCD screen built into the back of a laptop lid. While the laptop lid is closed and the system is in standby mode, you can use this screen to read e-mail or play media files. The upcoming Asus W5Fe has an LCD screen on the back of its lid, and the Toshiba Portege R400 tablet uses a tiny OLED display on its outer edge to display Sideshow information.