Windows 7 on the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC

Two years ago I decided to upgrade my tablet PC to Windows Vista, a process that I detailed here. I don’t use my tablet very much, but I do like to get the pen out from time to time to do some scribbling. The improvements in Windows Vista made the tablet much more usable, and though it wasn’t without problems, I wouldn’t have gone back to Windows XP. Slowly but surely I’ve replaced or upgraded the rest of my computers to Windows 7, and I love it. It’s a great operating system that just works. I decided to see if Seven could breathe new life into my tablet too.

Windows 7 on Toshiba Portege M200

The first hurdle was the same as last time – the lack of a DVD drive in the tablet. Fortunately it was much easier to deal with this time! I took the installation DVD and put it on a USB key, something that appears to be quite common given all the tutorials available online. Here’s the TechNet guide and here’s a useful guide from Ars Technica.

The install proceeded normally, and as quickly as I had come to expect from Windows 7. All was going well until the first boot up after installation, when the machine froze. I restarted it, but the same thing happened. I decided to try to boot into safe mode, which didn’t work because the machine had not yet been setup. I searched around online and found many people talking about removing unnecessary hardware. The only extra thing I had was the D-Link Wireless card I had added (you can see it sticking out in the picture). I removed it, restarted, and everything worked fine! Success!

After all the Windows updates were finished, I installed a couple more things. First was the Toshiba Value Added Package for Windows 7 (click on Downloads), which is meant for the M400 but works fine on the M200. Second was the NVIDIA ForceWare driver. The 96.85 version worked reliably for me, enabling Aero without transparency. After that it was pretty much good to go!

I ran the Windows Experience test, which resulted in an overall drop from what I had under Vista:

Oddly enough, the gaming graphics score went up slightly! A score of 1.0 is a far cry from the 5.9 my desktop computer gets (and that’s just because of the hard drive score, everything else is 6.9 or higher), but considering how old the tablet is, I guess I can’t complain.

Under Windows Vista, everything worked as it did in Windows XP except for the external display. I haven’t tried that under Windows 7 yet, but a few other things no longer work, such as the buttons on the side of the screen, and more importantly, screen rotation. I’ve looked into a few threads where some people have successfully made it work, but I haven’t tried any of their solutions just yet. I’m not sure I want to mess with the video drivers too much now that I have something stable. I never take my tablet with me anymore anyway (I have a netbook for that), it’s strictly a home PC, so I’m not too worried about it.

There are some nice improvements to the tablet functionality in Windows 7, and combined with how much better the OS is than Vista in general, I’m happy with the upgrade! I’m not sure how much life the hardware has left though – I suspect Windows 7 will be the last OS it runs, but you never know.

Netbooks are trendy

dell inspiron mini What kind of computer do you use? Most of my work is done at a desktop or workstation; a tower attached to three monitors. The rest of the time I’m using either my laptop or tablet. I’ve also got a little Sony UMPC but it doesn’t get used much. It was kinda cool for a while, but it’s not all that fast. And once I got my iPod touch, that pretty much fulfilled my small device needs.

My favorite to use is probably my tablet, even though it’s the slowest of the bunch. I think I like it mostly because of the form factor – it’s pretty small for a laptop (at 12 inches) but large enough that I don’t sacrifice a keyboard or full operating system.

A couple years from now though, my tablet might seem rather large thanks to the netbook trend. What’s a netbook? From Wikipedia:

A netbook is a small to medium sized, light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient laptop, generally optimized for internet based services such as web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks are also sometimes, but rarely referred to as a sub-subnotebook.

The form factor of a netbook is smaller than that of a notebook and they are very light in weight (usually 2 to 3 pounds). Common features include a small screen (usually around 7-inches to 10-inches diagonal), wireless connectivity, but no optical disc drive, and a smaller sized keyboard (usually 80 percent to 95 percent of normal size). There is also a trend of using solid-state drives instead of traditional hard disk drives.

Maybe it’s just me, but every second article on technology these days seems to mention netbooks! The blogosphere made a big deal this week out of the fact that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 7 running on a netbook. And today, PC World declares that netbooks will soon cost just $99:

Subnotebooks like the Asus Eee PC, the Dell Mini 9 and the HP 2133 Mini-note will soon cost as little as $99. The catch? You’ll need to commit to a two-year mobile broadband contract. The low cost will come courtesy of a subsidy identical to the one you already get with your cell phone.

A monthly service fee for mobile broadband doesn’t appeal to me at all, but a $99 netbook certainly does. Heck, I’m already tempted by the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (pictured above) and it’s nearly $500! If the cost of components fell enough so that a netbook was about half that price, I’d have no hesitations about picking one up and I doubt anyone else would either.

Netbooks are definitely trendy, but I think this is one trend that will last. A small device to check email, read and post blogs, and update Twitter is something that appeals to lots of people. Okay maybe not that last part 🙂

Windows Vista Ultimate on the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC

I’ve had my tablet for few years now and I just love it. I don’t know why these things haven’t taken off in the marketplace! They’re a bit more expensive than normal laptops, but it’s definitely worth the extra cost in my opinion. Mine is a Portege M200 from Toshiba (a “convertible” tablet). It came with the first release Windows XP Tablet PC edition. That worked okay, but SP2 definitely made it more usable. Technical specs include a 1.6 GHz Intel Centrino package (only 802.11b though), 512 MB of RAM, and a 60 GB hard drive.

As you can imagine, I filled that hard drive pretty quickly. And even though I had formatted and reinstalled Windows XP once already, it was pretty slow compared to the other computers I use on a regular basis. I started thinking about what I’d do with it. I really didn’t want to lose the tablet, but it was becoming less and less usable for me.

So I decided to upgrade it. I had purchased Windows Vista Ultimate back when it RTM’d, but I hadn’t installed it anywhere. I’ve literally had the DVD sitting on my desk for over a year, just waiting to be used. Why not on the tablet, I thought?

Windows Vista Ultimate on Toshiba Portege M200

As you can see, I got it working! Here’s how I did it:

The first step was to upgrade the hardware. The hard drive was old and small, and 512 MB of RAM was definitely not enough to run Vista. I also wanted to add a new wireless card that used 802.11g. I went to Memory Express and got the parts: 2 GB of Kingston PC2700 RAM, a new Seagate 160 GB hard drive, a D-Link AirPlus wireless card, and a Samsung external DVD-Writer. I also decided to get the extended warranty (which I don’t usually). Total cost: $450.

The reason I bought the external DVD drive was because the Portege M200 doesn’t have a built-in drive. So I plugged it in and started the Vista setup, only to find that it was really slow. I stuck the Windows XP disc in just to make sure, and yep, still really slow. I searched for something to fix the problem, but came up empty. The drive worked fine on my desktop, so it had to be the firmware on the tablet or something.

I looked for another solution, and eventually found this post by Ryan Adams. His solution is to use something called TFTP to install Windows Vista over a network connection. All you need is a computer with a working DVD drive that you can share, and a crossover cable. His instructions are excellent, so if you need to install Vista on a machine that doesn’t have a DVD drive, give it a shot. That’s how I got mine working.

The install was painless and pretty quick, and I breathed a sigh of relief when Vista booted up successfully. I was almost there! The next step was drivers. I found this page on the Mobile PC Wiki really useful. You can use some of the original M200 drivers. Additionally, you can install the M400 software updates that Toshiba has released for Windows Vista: one is the “Value Added Package for Windows Vista” and the other is the “Tablet PC Extension for Windows Vista”.

driverI didn’t mess around with the video too much at this point, and instead downloaded Windows Vista SP1 from MSDN and got that installed.

Since then, I have been messing around with the video drivers. I was determined to get Aero Glass working! I read Scott Hanselman’s post and was a little worried – I’m not sure he’s ever gotten it to work. Anyway, I eventually got the NVIDIA 97.59 driver installed and working properly!

It took me a while to figure out, but I can’t use transparency. If I turn on transparency and then open three or four windows, the Desktop Window Manager service crashes and everything reverts back to Vista Basic. If I turn off transparency however, Aero Glass works just fine. Here’s the non-transparent look:

not transparent

And here’s what it looks like with transparency enabled:

transparent

Having the transparency is nice, but it’s not a deal-breaker. And I’d much rather have Aero Glass than Vista Basic (which is ugly and pale blue by default).

Today, I finally ran the Windows Experience test:

vista rating

That’s pretty much the same as I’ve seen around the web for other Portege M200 owners who have upgraded to Vista. If Toshiba and NVIDIA released better drivers, I’m sure the rating would be much higher. Ah well, they want you to buy new machines I guess.

Based solely on my perception of how well the tablet performs, I’d say it’s much faster and more responsive with Vista then it ever was with XP. Surely the 2 GB of RAM and new hard drive help, though. The one negative is that the battery lasted far longer under XP. I’m talking like an hour and half longer!

That said, I am really glad I decided to upgrade my tablet to Vista. It kicks ass! I’ll save that for another post, but if you’re an M200 owner wondering whether or not to move to Vista, my advice would be to do so. The Tablet PC functionality in Vista easily outshines XP, you won’t regret the upgrade.

Coming Soon: Dell Tablet PC

Post ImageAs you may know, I am a big fan of the Tablet PC. I’ve had a Toshiba Portege for a few years now, and before that I had the first Compaq model. Unfortunately, most people still buy regular laptops. I think there are two reasons for that:

  • Tablet PC’s are a little more expensive than regular laptop computers.
  • Computer stores don’t showcase tablets, so not as many people know about them.

Both of those things might change in the near future! According to a post on Dell’s blog today, the rumored Latitude Tablet PC is real. There’s a short video with a few details. I think there’s hope that Dell’s tablet will be cheaper than the competition, taking care of point #1. And as for point #2, I imagine the tablet will be included in Dell’s mailouts, which are kind of like the old AOL disks – everyone gets them!

Elsewhere in the world of Dell today: some really nice LCD monitor technology and design.

Read: Direct2Dell

Why do we still teach cursive handwriting?

Post ImageI’m generally pretty happy whenever I get the opportunity to show off my Tablet PC, especially when my audience has never seen one before. It happened again Friday afternoon, and the expected “oohs” and “ahhs” filled the room. Usually I fold up my tablet so that the keyboard is hidden, and then I encourage onlookers to try writing in OneNote. Most people very quickly write “hello” or their name in block letters. On Friday however, someone wrote a sentence in cursive handwriting. I remarked that I simply can’t do cursive handwriting anymore, which led to a pretty interesting discussion.

Essentially we wondered aloud why cursive handwriting is still taught in elementary school. I remember learning it in grade three or so, but I simply can’t do it now. If I try, I really have to concentrate, and I just don’t remember what some of the letters are supposed to look like. The only thing I write in cursive these days is my name. The rest of the time I am either on the computer, or scribbling in my messy “print-writing” (where it’s mostly printing with a few letters connected). Why would anyone use cursive handwriting in this digital age? And if the answer to that is “pretty much no one,” then why do we still teach it?

The entry on Wikipedia provides just two reasons:

  • Cursive is easier and faster once mastered. There is no need to constantly pick up the pencil point and put it down again.
  • Cursive may be especially useful for certain students with learning disabilities such as dysgraphia because it has fewer letters that are mirror images of one another, such as the printed b and d, and so may be easier for students who are prone to mixing them up. In some schools, students with such learning challenges are taught cursive before print.

I think the first point is pretty much negated by typing, and the second point is only relevant for a relatively small number of individuals. I suppose another reason not mentioned on Wikipedia would be that cursive handwriting looks nice. My Mom’s handwriting, for example, is quite simply beautiful.

When you think about it, teaching cursive handwriting is really stupid. You generally can’t submit any assignments in junior high, high school, or post-secondary unless they are typed on a computer. What’s the point of learning it then?

Furthermore, I seem to recall that handwriting lessons took quite a bit of class time. Isn’t there something more useful we could be teaching children in place of handwriting?

Origami Revealed!

Post ImageEngadget has lots of cool news and pictures on the Origami devices today:

So we managed to get our hands on a Samsung Q1 / Origami device set to roll tomorrow here at CeBIT. Don’t ask how, but it’ll be awhile before we recover from the brutal caning we just received. From the five minutes we spent with it we can tell you, well, it’s an XP Tablet PC with a 7-inch display. Sorry, that’s about it, nothing earth-shattering here folks.

Okay, so the description doesn’t sound cool, but go take a look at the pictures! There’s a few more at CNET News.com too.

A later post reveals that the UI for the device has been found on the CeBIT website, and it includes pictures of a circular keyboard meant for thumb typing. Interesting idea, but I wonder how it works in practice.

Read: Engadget

First glimpse of Origami device?

Post ImageThis is the week we’ll find out more about Microsoft’s secretive Origami project. Intel today showed off some prototypes of the so-called “Ultra Mobile PC” devices and they look pretty good:

As earlier reported, the first devices have a 7-inch touch screen, standard x86 processors, and can run full versions of desktop operating systems including the Windows XP variant being used for Origami.

In later generations, probably next year or later, the devices could have the pocket size, all-day battery life, and $500 price that Microsoft and Intel are aiming for, Graff said in an interview.

Apparently these first devices will only get three hours of battery life, which is actually worse than my 12.1″ Toshiba Portege tablet. I think the concept is really great, and the price point is getting much, much better, but I’d rather have a Vista-based device that can last all day long. Should be interesting to see what Microsoft announces on Thursday.

Sounds like they are really going for the average consumer with this device too:

Intel also found in its testing that the devices appeal to active mothers, who, the chipmaker learned, have schedules similar to corporate road warriors.

I can’t figure out why Yahoo is featured so prominently in the pictures, as to my knowledge they don’t really have anything to do with this new platform. I mean obviously they must have paid for some attention, but certainly there could have been something more relevant to display.

Read: CNET News.com