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Update slows Dell handhelds, say owners

Some Dell Axim owners complain that upgrading the handheld to the latest version of Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system causes performance to slow.

An update to the Microsoft software in Dell Computer's Axim has caused the handheld device's performance to slow, according to some owners--but the companies say they don't see any problem.

The glitch affects the Axim X5--Dell's first and only handheld--running Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, according to postings on Axim user Web sites and on Dell's own DellTalk Web message boards.

Owners report that handhelds with the new operating system, which was launched on June 23, take longer to power up and to load applications than ones with the earlier Pocket PC 2002 OS.

"My Axim (X5) with the 400Mhz processor and PPC '03 is very slow loading most programs," a poster who goes by the handle Cyberlord wrote on a bulletin board at AximSite, an Axim enthusiast Web site.

Dell representatives said on Monday morning that the Round Rock, Texas-based company was aware of the concerns stated online by Axim users and is investigating these. However, they added it had not received any formal complaints from Axim owners through its tech support service.

"We're working to verify whether or not there's a performance issue," said Jess Blackburn, a Dell spokesman.

The Axim, introduced last November by Dell, is an important part of Dell's effort to appeal to both businesses and consumers with products that are closely related to the PC. Despite an overall slump in the handheld industry, Dell has managed to take significant market share, thanks in part to aggressive pricing and the exit of former No. 2 device maker Handspring from the market for personal digital assistants (PDAs). The tech company moved up to the No. 4 spot, with 6.5 percent, from No. 11 in worldwide market share for the first quarter of 2003, according to research firm IDC.

Microsoft representatives said the software maker had not seen any issues with its new software, either. "Feedback from product reviewers, enthusiasts and customers has been positive around the quality and performance of the new Windows Mobile software," a representative for the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker said.

Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC is not considered a major revision to its predecessor. It does, however, include new features such as built-in support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technologies. A larger overhaul is scheduled for the next version, code-named Magneto, which is due out next year.

Instead of introducing a new Axim with the Microsoft software update, Dell opted to upgrade its existing X5 model and leave the basic hardware unchanged. Devices purchased after June 23, with the Windows Mobile update installed, are at the center of the performance debate.

Last week, Dell stopped selling the Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC software upgrade for its Axim via its Web site. The discontinuation was the consequence of a glitch in Dell's accounting system, Blackburn said. Dell is working to resolve that problem and the upgrade, which costs $29.95, should be available on the site soon, he added.

Computer software upgrades sometimes sap some performance from older hardware. However, many Axim owners report even newer models operate in a manner they find unacceptably slow when used with the most recent software.

A number of manufacturers--including Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and ViewSonic--have announced new PDA models or plans to offer new models based on the Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC in the near future.