By Jim Boyce
As a manager, you probably have incidental meetings and other unplanned events happening to you all the time. Maybe someone you pass in the hall needs to chat about an ongoing project. Maybe you have an idea or think of a task to assign while you're on a plane or taking the train to work. Or maybe you just need some new tools and methods to stay connected and in touch while you're away from your desk. Both the Tablet PC and Pocket PC operating environments offer some excellent tools to help you stay on task and in touch.
The Tablet PC
Compared to a traditional notebook PC, the Tablet PC offers some interesting and useful benefits, particularly for people who're on the go a lot or who spend a lot of time in meetings. The capability that the Tablet PC offers for easy input by means of handwriting recognition makes it an excellent note-taking tool.
Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition includes a program called Microsoft Windows Journal with which you can easily take notes in meetings, jot down ideas, and organize your thoughts. Like all Tablet PC–based programs, Windows Journal supports handwritten input, making it convenient for notes and sketches.
When you need more capabilities for organizing your notes, Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 is an excellent choice. It gives you much more flexibility in organizing your notes into sections, folders, and pages. It also offers much more in terms of easy integration of data from other sources — including other Microsoft Office System programs — and the capability to easily add drawings.
Tablet PC: Slate vs. convertible
But how can you put the Tablet PC format to better use to stay in touch and on task when you're out of the office? It depends in part on the type of Tablet PC you have. There are two types: slate and convertible.
The slate type is generally lighter and more portable than a convertible. It integrates everything into the display unit, and it has no built-in keyboard.
The convertible type is much more like a notebook PC, except that the screen swivels to cover the keyboard, facing up so that you can use a stylus on it.
The slate type is thinner and lighter; the convertible is generally more powerful. When you add a keyboard to a slate model, the two models are essentially equally useful — at least in the office.
When you step into the hall, however, the slate model is much better for taking notes during an impromptu meeting by the water cooler because it's more portable. So if you're thinking of getting a Tablet PC, you can improve your ability to network in incidental situations if you choose a slate model.
If you have a Tablet PC of any kind, you can start putting it to work. It can keep you connected to your team and your managers, as well as keep you working while you're on the go.
For example, keep Windows Journal or OneNote running all the time to make it readily available for note-taking. If you find it difficult to use Tablet PC Input Panel to enter notes while standing, draw your notes in the program rather than use Input Panel. You don't need to convert them to text right away — after all, as long as you can read your notes, that's all that counts.
It's also a good idea to keep Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 running so that you can quickly create new tasks on the fly, add events to the calendar, or even send a quick e-mail message. In addition, you can quickly check the status of pending items when someone stops you to ask about one.
Of course, having Outlook running implies a connection to your e-mail server, right?
Actually, it doesn't. Although it's certainly very useful to have a wireless network available while you roam, it isn't a necessity. You can create new items in Outlook and even compose and send e-mail messages. However, those messages will stay in your Outbox until your Tablet PC is connected to the network and your e-mail server is available.
Finally, another useful tool to help you stay connected while roaming is the Offline Files feature in Microsoft Windows (shown in the following figure). Offline Files creates a hidden copy of a selected network folder and its contents on your computer, and it makes the folder appear as if it were still available on the network, even when your computer is disconnected from the network. So, you can continue to access specifications, letters, contracts, and other documents while you roam, even when you have no network connection. Any changes you make to a document while your computer is disconnected are synchronized with the original document on the server the next time your computer connects to the network.
Microsoft Windows Mobile™-based Pocket PCs
Although the Tablet PC offers the capabilities of staying connected and having scheduling and task management tools at your fingertips when you roam, many people find even a slim, slate Tablet PC too big to carry around. If you're in that category, a Windows Mobile–based Pocket PC or other type of personal digital assistant (PDA) might be the perfect solution for keeping you in the loop while on the go.
One of the best things about Windows Mobile–based Pocket PCs — aside from the very portable form — is their integration with Outlook. Windows Mobile–based Pocket PCs include programs that provide task management, messaging, scheduling and reminders, and note-taking. Each of these features synchronizes automatically with your desktop computer's installation of Outlook through Microsoft ActiveSync, which is also included with Windows Mobile–based Pocket PCs. (You must install the desktop component of ActiveSync on your desktop computer). The result is that your PDA can remind you of appointments and meetings and you can use your PDA to browse and respond to your e-mail when you're away from your desk.
Perhaps even more important, you can use the PDA to check the status of existing tasks — without immediate access to a PC or to the network — because these tasks are synchronized from the PC to your PDA when there's a connection. You can also create new task assignments and have them synchronized with your PC when the PC or network is available (see the following figure).
This capability will help you stay on top of tasks assigned to you and will help you better manage tasks that you've assigned to your team, even if the need pops up while you're chatting with someone in the hall.
Windows Mobile–based Pocket PCs offer a handful of other programs that will help you stay in touch with team members and supervisors and put data literally at your fingertips. For example, if you have a wireless network available, you can use MSN Messenger to chat with others through MSN.
You can use Microsoft Internet Explorer to connect to sites on your intranet or on the Internet. You can even browse for file resources on the network or use Terminal Services Client, which is included, to connect to your desktop computer or to Terminal Server across the network, all while sitting in a conference room or standing in the hallway.
Naturally, making a Windows Mobile–based Pocket PC easier to use will make you that much more effective. One thing you can do to enhance a Pocket PC's usefulness is to use the Word Completion feature, which displays suggested words as you enter text on the onscreen keyboard, so you can select complete words rather than type them. (To customize the Word Completion feature, tap Start, tap Settings, tap Input, and then tap the Word Completion tab.)
On the Word Completion tab, you can turn on or turn off the Word Completion feature, specify the number of words that it will suggest, and set the number of letters that you must enter before the feature suggests any words. The Word Completion feature learns new words as you enter them, and you can use third-party programs to customize the Word Completion dictionary.
You can also speed up text entry in Instant Messaging and MSN Messenger by using the My Text feature, a list of phrases that you can customize and enter into your messages with a few taps. The My Text list is relatively short, but it's still a very useful tool when it's customized to suit your needs. (To modify the phrase list, tap Tools, and then tap Edit My Text.)
Or you can skip entering any text at all by using a Pocket PC's built-in microphone to record your notes as needed.
On the go and in the loop
Both the Tablet PC and Windows Mobile–based Pocket PCs offer some excellent features for people on the go. Whether it's MSN Messenger to keep you connected to team members, the capability to access data through a wireless network, or the capability to access and control your desktop computer remotely through Terminal Services Client, you'll soon find these tools indispensable in keeping you in the loop while you roam.
About the author Jim Boyce has written more than 50 books about computers and technology, many of them about Microsoft Office System products. He regularly contributes to several online sites and publications. His latest book is Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out, which is available from Microsoft Learning.