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Windows CE to talk NT

Microsoft will upgrade the desktop software on Windows CE-based handheld computers to share data with Windows NT 4.0.

Microsoft (MSFT) announced today that it will upgrade the desktop software on Windows CE-based handheld computers to share data with Windows NT 4.0 as well with the Outlook personal information manager in Office 97.

When Microsoft launched its handheld operating system in November, one of its greatest selling points was the ability to synchronize scheduling and other personal data between a Windows desktop and a handheld PC.

In addition to the added connectivity, the upgrade will now support Word 97 and Excel 97 file formats. The upgrade will ship as a new version of the desktop system software, called HPC Explorer. The Windows CE operating system itself will be unaffected.

So far, Compaq, NEC, and Casio have shipped units, and current customers can download the software upgrade from the Windows CE Web site. Upcoming shipments, including units from Philips, Hitachi, Hewlett-Packard, and LG Electronics, will include an HPC Explorer 1.1 CD-ROM.

The software license has also been changed to let users install the new desktop software on any machine they want, said Handheld PC product manager Jim Floyd.

The launch ran into trouble in its first couple of months when faulty device drivers were found to drain the battery power of the Casio and Compaq units--and thus lose data--even when the units were shut off. Microsoft worked with the hardware makers to post a patch in February.

According to one analyst, Microsoft's second attempt to create a handheld computing platform has not taken the corporate or retail world by storm.

"The rollouts have been more on the conservative side because they want to make sure they're doing it right," said Diana Hwang, industry analyst at International Data Corporation. "No one's embracing it with open arms so far."

The upgrade will be available for download on April 15.