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Windows CE upgrades due

Two manufacturers of handheld devices running the Microsoft software begin offering upgrades to the latest version today.

Two manufacturers of handheld devices running Microsoft's Windows CE will begin offering upgrades to the latest version of the operating system today, but it is unclear if older devices will really benefit from installation.

NEC and LG Electronics will provide upgrades for the Windows CE Handheld PC Professional Edition to existing users of the NEC MobilePro 750C and LG Phenom Express, respectively, the companies said.

Users must physically replace the ROM (read-only memory) chip to upgrade, because Windows CE is an "embedded" OS that resides within the hardware componentry. For the LG Phenom and NEC MobilePro 750C, it is a fairly simple matter to locate and remove the ROM chip, but for other devices the process may be more troublesome.

Windows CE Handheld PC Professional Edition, introduced last October, mainly offers support for the larger, typically 8-inch displays and nearly full-size keyboards that are the hallmarks of the new "Jupiter-class" handheld PCs.

The MobilePro 750C and LG Phenom Express utilize an older version of Windows CE designed for devices with smaller screens. Both devices, however, use these smaller screens so some of the chief benefits of the Jupiter upgrade won't materialize.

But manufacturers say even owners of older devices can benefit from installing the new OS. The new software offers better overall performance and enhanced email and PowerPoint applications, according to the companies.

"In the Jupiter OS, Microsoft basically gave the hardware manufacturers more flexibility, so they could support the bigger screens if they wanted," said a spokesperson for NEC. "But beyond allowing you to have a full screen, this is an enhanced OS."

LG Electronics is offering owners of its Phenom Express a free upgrade to the Handheld PC Professional Edition for a limited time, through January 15, 1999. The regular price of the upgrade will be $129.

Phenom owners can find a coupon for the upgrade kit at the company's Web site or at retail stores.

Owners of NEC MobilePro750C Handheld PCs will be able to upgrade from Windows CE 2.0 to the Professional Edition by purchasing an upgrade kit, which includes a new ROM chip for $149.