What good are wireless LANs without client devices to exploit them? A slew of vendors, including Microsoft Corp., this month announced newfangled options.

Microsoft unveiled a version of Windows XP called XP Tablet PC Edition, which hardware vendors are expected to use in products they will roll out next year. The machines will run existing Windows programs and new applications designed for the Tablet operating system.

A key new technology is “rich digital ink,” which lets applications recognize handwritten, digital ink notes, store these as documents, search them and combine them with other tools, including Microsoft Outlook.

Tablet PC software initially will support 802.11b wireless LANs and eventually will work with 802.11a and Bluetooth networks.

National Semiconductor showed off the capabilities of its Geode mobile processor when it unveiled an innovative prototype handheld called the Origami Mobile Communicator. Named for the Japanese art of paper folding, the Origami can be twisted and turned into eight gadgets, including a digital camera, videophone, Web surfing pad and an e-mail terminal. It’s powered by the Geode SC3200 processor with integrated video and audio components and runs an embedded version of XP. Observers say such Internet appliances don’t have a good track record with companies such as 3Com and Sony killing off high-profile offerings earlier this year. Still, there’s hope.

“The Origami is one of the more innovative examples combining next-generation technologies with the Internet appliance platform,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc., a consulting firm.

National Semi hopes to see Origami built next year.

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