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Tablet PC increases its vocabulary

Microsoft releases an update to the handwriting-recognition software, enabling users to write in several languages at once. The company also gets around to adding Spanish to the mix.

Microsoft on Monday released an update to its Tablet PC operating system that lets a device habla espanol and at the same time parle francais.

The software maker has already trained the handwriting-recognition software to read a number of languages, but the new Multilingual User Interface and Recognizer Pack adds the ability to write in more than one language at time.

The update to the Tablet OS, which is a custom version of Windows XP, covers French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and American and British English. With the latest update, customers can also quickly switch menus and dialog boxes to a different language.

Initially, Spanish was not among the languages supported by the OS, but Microsoft has been working to make the software more worldly. The new version of the operating system understands Iberian Spanish.

The latest software update will be made available both from PC makers that offer tablet computers as well as directly from Microsoft for those that already own a tablet. The update can be ordered from Microsoft's Tablet PC Web site.

Although tablets make up just a small part of today's laptop market, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has predicted that such handwriting-recognition capabilities will eventually become standard on portable machines. According to market researcher IDC, computer makers shipped 72,000 tablet PCs in the fourth quarter of last year, with the market predicted to "grow considerably" this year.