In response to my earlier post, about the lack of ink-enabled business applications, Ben Poole wrote:
Here's what I don't understand:
Why should ANY application be "ink-enabled"?

Seriously. Why?
The way Microsoft have approached the Tablet PC is all wrong in this regard: ink-enabling should be an OS-level abstraction. Applications should just take advantage of what the host operating system offers, using its input managers and what-have-you. It seems crazy to me that the OS vendor is relying on application developers to push *their* technology in this way.
I'm sure MS have their reasons for tackling the Table PC like this, but I must be missing something big time...

Yes, Ben, you've missed something.

So did IBM and the Lotus Notes team.

There's a big difference between an application that is "pen-enabled"  by the OS and "ink-enabled" by the developer.

Pen-enabled, to me, simply means that I can use a pen (stylus) in place of my mouse. For that functionality all you need is a Tablet PC. No changes to any applications are required.

To be ink-enabled is to support digital ink in the key aspects of the program - not just the point and click navigation you could get with a mouse. I'm talking about gestures for commands and real ink in fields (e.g. in Rich text fields in Lotus Notes.)

Ben, in response to your question, the Tablet PC OS (and soon, Vista) ARE Ink-Enabled at the OS level. Any application, ink-enabled or not, running on these OS will automatically gain basic pen functionality.

Input fields, even in Lotus Notes, will automatically present a TIP (Tablet Input Panel) where you can ink text to be entered into the field. So, I CAN control any application, even Lotus Notes with the stylus. The problem is that it's not easy. Where "Ink Enabling" comes into play is when/IF the software vendor chooses to make the application more pen-friendly. This includes allowing for single-click functions (without CTRL or ALT) and gestures for routine activities. This must be done at the application level.

The OS provides the tools and ink abstraction so that any application can work with a pen, clunky as it may be. Lotus Notes, for example, is not pen friendly, although it would not take much to make it so.

Another example of how it is up to the application developer to include ink support (or not) would be in the way that ink is displayed. If Notes, for all its power and glory (I think) were Ink enabled, it would support ink in a rich-text field. This means that I could send an email and scribble out my message, allowing Notes to pass my pen scratching to the underling Tablet OS to convert into text. Imagine being able to take notes in Lotus Notes with a stylus and then having those notes stored as ink but with digital text representation behind them so that you could search for anything in a Notes database or across Notes databases, regardless of whether the object you are searching for exists in ink or text form.

Ben, true Ink-enabled tablet apps already do all of this.

Here are just three excellent examples of true ink-enabled applications:
  • Microsoft OneNote (Works with a keybaord, but shines with a pen)
  • MindJet MindManager - Works with a keyboard, but really shines with a pen. And, it now supports Notes doclinks!
  • Windows Journal (Free with Windows XP and automatically ink-enabled in the Tablet OS)
The best examples of Ink-enabled applications I can give are these. With a handful of ink gestures, I can control ALL of the key functionality with only a stylus. No need for control or shift or alt key combinations. If I want text, I can type or ink, if I want to draw, I simply ink. That;s it. I don't have to think about the tools.

Imagine, Windows Journal functionality in Lotus Notes.

That would be powerful!

I think IBM should watch out for the other "Notes"

I don't think it is a coincidence that Microsoft called their powerful note application OneNote. It's an amazing piece of work. There are only two reasons I do not use OneNote for my daily work. First, I cannot replicate (You can sort of do it now, with Groove and Microsoft will add their own version of replication in the OneNote 2007 version) and second, I cannot copy individual OneNote pages into a Lotus Notes database. Even if Ray adds Notes-Like functionality to OneNote 2007 I won't rush to switch. Lotus Notes does too many other things well. Still, I'm watching OneNote very carefully as I believe it shows great promise for the future of information management.

Until then, I use ActiveWords, one of my favorite desktop productivity applications. The ActiveWords InkPad allows simple gestures to be converted into commands that a standard Windows application can understand. This works well for many applications that have a good set of key-combinations. I could, for example, create a gesture that would do a CTRL+M for a new message. Unfortunately, there's no control code for a new task (This is a  BIG pet peeve for GTD and Notes users) or other frequently needed functions. Again, this is a Notes problem, not a Windows problem.

When I want to use Lotus Notes, I frequently switch to convertible laptop mode, rather than Tablet Mode.  

I hope that Lotus Notes Design team warms up to the idea that the pen can be mightier than the keyboard. Not in all cases, but in enough cases to offer a significant productivity boost for Notes users.

This is one area where I will agree with the Notes detractors; when it comes to support for the Tablet PC, Lotus Notes stinks.
(That's for the people who think I only blog positive things about my favorite program. I love Notes and I've used it since v2.0 Still, there are things that are clunky. Sad, but true.)

Wow. this topic touched a nerve, I guess. That's the second time this week. I had better stop. :-)

Anyway, Ben, THANK YOU for allowing me to use your comment as the topic of this blog post. I hope that I've answered your question and given the Notes community something to think about.

I think Lotus Notes and an ink-enabled tablet would be a powerful productivity tool!  
I would love to be able to ink-enable my eProductivity Template to allow my clients to manage their weekly review with teh stroke of a pen!

Are YOU a user of Lotus Notes on the Tablet PC? How does it work for you? Do you think IBM should ink-enable Lotus Notes?

Discussion/Comments (13):

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

OK, now I understand the difference between the OS and application with regards ink-enabling :o)

Honestly though, I think MS have an uphill struggle with the tablet—for example, do enough users out there really appreciate the value that may be derived from a tablet PC vs. conventional laptop I wonder?

Posted at 11/28/2006 15:28:53 by Ben Poole

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

Notes is a great OLE/ActiveX container. Developers can embed objects in forms, and users can embed objects in rich text. Is there not some sort of generic ink-enabled OLE/ActiveX object that you can use? Something like an ink-enabled WordPad? Better still, an ink-enabled WordPad that exposes a rich set of automation methods and properties that can be accessed and manipulated from LotusScript so that data typed or inked into the object is available to application logic. Of course it wouldn't solve all the issues you bring up, but it would at least give you an easy way to put ink-enabled content into Notes databases, and possibly integrate tightly with application functionality.

Posted at 11/28/2006 16:38:45 by Richard Schwartz

Lotus Notes and Tablet PCs

Richard, Notes indeed is an excellent container for all kinds of media and it does replication well - two of teh primary reasons my client's and I won't give it up - at least not until something better (and proven) comes along.

Yes, a developer "could" write an add-in (and that's probably what it will take) to allow ink objects to be stored inside Lotus Notes but that's not ink-enabling. Ink enabling includes so much more: gestures, navigation, etc. the idea is that the tools (in this case Notes and Tablet PC) become transparent to the work being done.

I'm not aware of any ink-enabled add-ins for Lotus Notes. Hopefully folks will blog about this and some clever developer will take it on as a personal mission.

It sounds like you've not experienced using a Tablet PC. It's definately an experience woth looking into. I started as a skeptic, wondering what all the fuss was about being YABHTU,. Now, I'm sold.

If only I could get my favorite productivity apps to work as nicely in tablet modes as other products do.

Posted at 11/28/2006 21:34:26 by Eric Mack

Bill Gates uses a Tablet PC and thinks that someday, almost everyone will.

If my own experience is commonplace, I'm inclined to believe him.

Ben wrote: "Do enough users out there really appreciate the value that may be derived from a tablet PC vs. conventional laptop I wonder?"

The number of tablet users is growing daily. Initially growth was focused on individuals and specialized vertical markets (e.g. healthcare) but that's changing. Vista will ship, ink-enabled out of the box.

I'm sure that soem of teh other readers of my blog can comment on growth figures.

Posted at 11/29/2006 2:28:32 by Eric Mack

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

I use my tablet PC as both a laptop and a tablet. I don't work for a huge company that uses them and I'm not currently in school, though my original thought was that this tablet could replace my old desktop as a portable gaming system that I could also take notes on. I purchased the tablet based on a couple things: the ability to take notes while in school, the ability to be able to draw a little more naturally (I've been using a graphics tablet since '01), and still not sacrifice all of the specs I'd need to keep it a decent gaming machine. I found the Acer Travelmate C204 and found out much more beyond that now that I've owned it for almost 6 months.

There are many things that a tablet pc can do that a conventional notebook can't or can't do well. I won't go over the obvious like inking on a screen but there's a few things that aren't as appreciated until you actually use them. Have you ever tried to use a laptop while cramped with 2 other people in the back of an '03 Monte Carlo? There's no space to begin with and especially no elbow room to type or use a touch pad, making use of it frusterating to near impossible. Shortly after getting my tablet, we took a trip out to visit my family in Michigan and my dad decided to pack 5 of us in his car and drive down to Cleveland. You know what? We were able to use my tablet the whole way there and back (with an AC/DC converter, since battery life isn't quite good for 8 hours and wasn't going to make the 18 hour trip out to Michigan) with no problem at all. I played tic-tac-toe and hangman with my siblings in Windows Journal (certainly not what it was intended for but hey, who says you can't?), we took turns playing Hexic Deluxe, and could have watched a movie though we didn't end up doing that. All without issues of lack of elbow room and with all of us actually getting along together working with this thing, it was one of the most peaceful family trips I've ever been on.

Spec-wise, a lot of people look at tablet pcs and see that they have less for more money. What they don't realize when looking at these prices is all of the features not listed on the little fact sheet that they're actually paying for. Can you pay less for a laptop with equal or better specs? Of course! However, after using both a tablet pc and a laptop, laptops aren't truely "portable". Sure you can move them around and run them off their batteries so they don't have to be plugged in but you're still essentially using a mobile desktop. You still need a flat surface to place it on when using or typing (or your legs, but then you need to be sitting and you deal with the fact that the whole thing moves around as you type), those touch pads are generally awkward to use at strange angles unless you've really adusted to it so you might be shackled by an external mouse on the same flat surface as the laptop (or a book or something if you're trying to use it on a couch, but this is frusterating as the book and mouse tend to keep moving). The beauty of a tablet pc is that you're not shackled by any of this. You can carry it wherever you want, use it while holding it or you can rest it on a desk, your lap (either on the couch or while browsing in bed), you can fit in smaller spaces, and anyone can pick up the pen and start pointing, clicking, and writing without having to "adjust" to it like you do the touch pad.

So to actually answer the question, a lot of the benefits of a tablet pc are hard to explain and therefore fully appreciate unless you can actually hold a tablet in your hands and experience those benefits firsthand. The people who have used tablet pcs, for the most part, truely appreciate these values and would choose another tablet pc for their next computer without second thought. Does the general public appreciate the values of a tablet pc? No. We've been taught to look at the specs and the price point on a computer and when the general public looks at a tablet for $1200 then sees a laptop with the same specs for $600, they go for the laptop while only asking me "Why would I want to pay twice as much for the same thing?". Without actually being able to see the true difference and benefits, it's very hard to explain. I work in a retail store who, unfortunately, has a slew of notebooks and one Gateway Tablet PC that isn't on display yet. The other problem is that there is very little marketing by Gateway and Toshiba (the only two tablet pcs you'll find in a retail store) to actually show the benefits of these machines. It's sort of like a private club though it shouldn't be... if you know what a tablet pc is, you're in. If not, go have fun with your laptop. I think the tablet pc market will start to see a big lift with the general public once Dell comes out with one and while I hate Dell, they'll know how to market a tablet pc properly to the general public to get them to consider it.

While the tablet pc market needs proper marketing, they also need better specs to help compare to some of the laptops out there today. Most tablet pcs aren't even capable of running Windows Vista Premium (graphics card that can't support Aero) and this is also hurting the people like me who want to use their tablet for EVERYTHING: taking notes, browsing the web, and gaming. I play World of Warcraft so it's nothing too taxing on a system, but something not many tablet pcs could handle, which is why I was happy when I found the Acer. Right now, a lot of tablet pc makers are narrowing down the market too much to business users and students when really anyone could make use of a tablet pc.

Posted at 11/29/2006 10:54:05 by SarieaTsukihoshi

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

Alt-C-M-T will create a new task for you (at least in Notes 7.x), Alt-C-M-C will do a new calendar entry, but in general I agree

Posted at 11/29/2006 13:03:13 by Andy Broyles

re: Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

Thanks Sariea, for sharing your perspective. A worthy read.

Posted at 11/29/2006 13:46:48 by Eric Mack

Lotus Notes Shortcut keys

Yes, Andy but these key combinations only work if a person is OUTSIDE of the mail database, making them functionally useless. I've hacked a work-around, but its not pretty.

I think the Notes Dev & UI team, needs to add a single control function for each task/calendar/memo. This is critical for Lotus Notes and GTD (Most of our clients).

Posted at 11/29/2006 13:47:18 by Eric Mack

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

You are correct -- I haven't tried the tablet experience. I thought about it, but I'm really hard on my laptops and I really worry about the screen hinge on tablets holding up. Actually, that's not the primary reason, but it did come into play. It was more the price/power for programming ratio that kept me with the traditional laptop when I bought my latest (ThinkPad T43).

Back to the subject at hand, I just want to clarify that I wasn't quite suggesting that someone would build a Notes-specific ink-aware add-in. I was suggesting that if there's an existing generic OLE/ActiveX ink-aware scratch pad type component available, you could use that today. I realize it would barely scratch the surface of what you really want, but it could still be quite useful.

And in general, I do agree with you. In fact, more than two years ago I posted a couple of articles on my old blog about OneNote. And you know... in one of them I speculated about whether or not OneNote is an OLE server app. If I ever looked into that, actually, I can't remember what I found. If it is an OLE server, then one could embed OneNote content inside an NSF -- which might be a pretty interesting thing to try.

Posted at 11/29/2006 18:43:42 by Richard Schwartz

On Lotus Notes & OneNote

Richard, the Tablet PC screen swivel an area where care must be given. A convertible tablet is by design less rugged than a hinged screen. I'm very careful with my tablet for this reason.

I remember your OneNote posts and your speculation. I continue to watch OneNote while I hope for IBM to add ink and imaging capability to lotus Notes.

Thanks Richard, for your thoughtful input. I always enjoy your comments.


Posted at 11/30/2006 15:20:05 by Eric Mack

Microsoft Journal and Lotus Notes

4:15 PM Richard, I just experimented with MS Journal - it works as an attached file type in Lotus Notes and edit-in-place works with digital ink. Unfortunately, create object does not work, so files need to be first created outside of Lotus Notes. Also, I'm not sure that the recognized text in the .jnt file will be searchable using Note' full-text search. (Still testing) It's not completely ideal, but it is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for the inspiration

I've blogged about this, here:

Posted at 11/30/2006 16:13:59 by Eric Mack

Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

One implementation of ink that I love and would like to see implemented more widely is in Microsoft Infopath. While it is a tool for creating forms, it has every field "inkable" which then turns to text and fills in the field.(Ink Entry Mode) This is a nice implementation a much more natural feeling than using the TIP

Just my 2 cents

Posted at 12/04/2006 21:12:49 by Kevin

re: Why should ANY app (e.g. Lotus Notes) be ink-enabled?

Good point, Kevin.

Apparently you can insert an ink picture control in MS Infopath.

I hope this helps.


Posted at 12/06/2006 16:13:38 by Eric Mack

Discussion for this entry is now closed.