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Microsoft wants more PDAs in hot spots

The software giant teams with the largest U.S. hot spot providers to encourage more people to use Pocket PCs for wireless Net access at coffee shops and other locales.

Microsoft has teamed with the largest hot spot service providers in the United States to encourage more people to use Pocket PCs for wireless Net access at coffee shops, airport lounges and other typical hot spot locales.

According to a promotion introduced Monday, anyone who buys a PDA (personal digital assistant) or other device that uses Microsoft's Windows Mobile software will get a free month of hot spot surfing from T-Mobile, Boingo Wireless and Wayport. Combined, the three wireless ISPs (Internet service providers) have about 3,500 hot spot locations--areas where Wi-Fi wireless networks deliver pay-as-you-surf Web access.

Pocket PC is Microsoft's technology framework for small devices, incorporating the Windows CE operating system. The framework is licensed to other companies to make their own handheld devices bearing the Pocket PC name.

Wi-Fi and PDAs are a relatively new combination, with most hot spot users turning to their laptop computers. According to wireless analysts TeleChoice, the percentage of people with PDAs using Wi-Fi networks is now "very small." PDA users suffer through a tedious process to log on to a Wi-Fi network, only to find that their battery dies after just a short surfing session.

Microsoft thinks the deal will help boost sales of devices that use its new mobile software, which includes a "sniffer" that automatically locates a hot spot and readies a Pocket PC to log on. Boingo Wireless unveiled a new version of its sniffer for PDAs on Monday.

"This makes it easy for (PDA users) to try the service and realize the benefits of wireless computing," Microsoft Vice President Juha Christensen said in a statement.