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PocketPC 2002 Makes its Debut

Slightly over a year after first launching its Pocket PC platform in April 2000, Microsoft last week took the wraps off of PocketPC 2002

The software giant unveiled Pocket PC 2002 at a lavish San Francisco event that trumpeted support from an extensive supporting cast, including long-time Pocket PC backers Compaq Computer Corp., Casio Computer Co. Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Microsoft also sought to bolster Pocket PC 2002’s case by introducing a raft of new backers, including Acer Inc., Fujitsu America Inc., NEC USA Inc., and British Telecom subsidiary O2 (www.o2.com ).

During his keynote address, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer acknowledged that his company had enjoyed spotty success thus far in its quest to create a successful platform for embedded devices and for mobile computing.

“We've been at this Pocket PC concept, small computer, palm-sized device category for a while and when we launched our Pocket PC 2000 device a year and a half ago I kind of said some of the same things, but the trend continues,” he said. “Our early efforts were excellent in terms of the underlying technology and they frankly fell way, way, way, way short in terms of the actual consumer experience.”

At the same time, Ballmer claimed, the software giant has come a long way since its setbacks in the early days of Windows CE.

“The Pocket PC 2000 was [a fantastic product] but the Pocket PC 2002 in some senses is even better, is even stronger a device,” he averred.

Among other improvements, Ballmer touted Pocket PC 2002’s enhanced security and new virtual private networking features, in addition to its (highly-touted) integration with Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. Pocket PC 2002 also provides client support for Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Services -– which enables it to establish Terminal Services sessions with Windows 2000 Server systems -– as well as more robust development tools.

Unfortunately, Pocket PC 2002 will also ship with a considerably more robust price, to boot. Many new Pocket PC 2002 models are outfitted with 32 or 64 MB of RAM, for example, and Microsoft now says that the Pocket PC will run only on the ARM 4 microprocessor, which is based on the StrongARM RISC microprocessor technology that Intel Corp. acquired from Compaq subsidiary Digital Equipment Corp. in 1997. In consequence of this, most of the vendors that have released pricing information plan to charge in the neighborhood of $500 for an entry level Pocket PC 2002 (the Compaq Ipaq H3700). In contrast, many Pocket PC 2000 devices are currently selling for under $300.

And to top it all off, Microsoft’s protracted perfecting of Windows CE itself may also have turned some customers off from the Pocket PC -– which is based on version 3.0 of Windows CE -– especially enterprise developers who’ve had first-hand experience with Microsoft’s ne’er-do-well embedded OS in its earlier incarnations.

“From a developer’s point of view, it’s a difficult platform, and there are some vexing bugs still in [Windows CE] 3.0,” says Christopher Carlins, a software engineer with Applied Sciences Group Inc. (www.appliedsciencesgroup.com ), a Buffalo, NY-based control systems integrator, who spearheaded an effort to develop an Internet conferencing application based on Windows CE 3.0. “Looking at [PocketPC 2002] from a user’s point of view, it might not be that bad -– they do a really good job of reduplicating the Windows look and feel.”

Pocket PC 2002 makes its appearance at an uncertain time in the handheld space. Long-time market leader Palm Inc. (www.palm.com ) has struggled of late, and some observers have said that it’s lost its momentum; principal Palm challenger Handspring (www.handspring.com ) -– which also leverages the Palm OS –- has enjoyed great success in the consumer space but has been unable to penetrate enterprise accounts with its handheld devices; and market research firm Int’l Data Corp. has twice revised its 2001 revenue projections for the world-wide handheld market. “Handheld devices have proved they are not immune to the economic slowdown," noted Kevin Burden, manager of the smart handheld devices research program with IDC (www.idc.com ), in the aftermath of his company’s first revenue revision in June.

Nevertheless, analysts anticipate that the Pocket PC will likely fare very well -– especially against a weakened Palm. “The corporate market is slowly swinging toward devices running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, due to its smoother functioning with Outlook and Office applications and stronger support for wireless communications capabilities,” wrote Gartner Group (www.gartner.com ) analysts Todd Kort and Ken Dulaney in a May research brief.

According to Rob Enderle, a research fellow with the Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com ), the single greatest advantage that Microsoft enjoys with respect to Palm and its other competitors in the handheld space is hardware independence, which, he says, lets it concentrate almost exclusively on improving the quality of its operating system.

“They were able to drive a general spec and let the hardware vendors compete on the issue of the best design,” he comments. “So here Microsoft’s able to focus on addressing the shortcomings of their platform to the point where, technically, they’ve clearly outstripped Palm, because their OS is a current generation OS, but Palm’s is representative of an older generation.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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