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Microsoft super-secret tablet project revealed, maybe

Courier
Could this be Microsoft's new computer concept? Credit: Gizmodo.com.

At long last, details about a super-secret computer tablet have emerged, complete with pictures and even a video showing how it works.

But it’s not the long-awaited tablet that Apple has been rumored to be developing. This prototype reportedly comes from deep inside Apple’s arch-nemesis, Microsoft, where its development has supposedly been so blanketed in secrecy that many high-ranking company executives didn't’know it existed. If it’s real, that is.

The device, code named Courier, showed up on the Gizmodo.com site under the headline, "First Details of Microsoft's Secret Tablet."

Microsoft neither confirmed nor denied its existence. "We do not comment on unreleased products," company spokesman Doug Free said.

He wouldn't even say whether Microsoft was working on a tablet, which is a type of computer that uses finger touches and/or a stylus to input information directly on the screen.

"There are a broad range of products always underway," Free said, none of which he would describe.

If the tablet unearthed by Gizmodo is a fake, it's certainly an elaborate one. And its features have sparked a lot of buzz in the PC world.

"If it is a hoax, they should look into making it real," said analyst Allan Krans of Technology Business Research. "It looks like a cross between the Kindle, iPhone and a tablet."

The slim Courier opens like a school notebook to reveal side-by-side seven-inch screens. The two-minute, demonstration video on Gizmodo starts off with a furniture designer bringing her address book up on the left screen and a city map on the right. With the flick of a finger (shown in animation) she quickly moves an address of an upcoming meeting onto the map, which reconfigures to show her the exact location.

She then uses the screens to organize samples and other materials for the meeting, and with a stylus she writes notes on what she has found. Everything is done with fingers or stylus -- no keyboard is shown.

Handwriting recognition is not shown in the video, but Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7, that goes on sale next month reportedly has handwriting recognition features.

Several tablet computers have come out in the last several years, but none caught on in a big way. Krans said they were too bulky. "The technology did not exist to make them as slim or portable as necessary," he said.

If Courier is real, there's of course no word on when it might come out. Apple is keeping its supposed tablet under wraps, too -- widely circulated rumors say it will debut in February. Of course, just a few weeks ago there were rumors it would be revealed this month.

-- David Colker

 
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