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Windows CE toolbox out

Microsoft offers the first toolset for building applications for its handheld devices OS.

Microsoft (MSFT) today announced the availability of the first set of tools for building applications that run on its Windows CE operating system for handheld devices.

As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, the company is debuting Visual C++ for Windows CE, a $199 option for its existing Visual C++ version 5.0 development tool. The option allows developers to build Windows CE applications for handheld devices from Hitachi, Compaq, LG Electronics, Casio, NEC Technologies, Philips, and Hewlett-Packard, as well as future non-PC systems running Windows CE.

CE is a slimmed-down version of Windows that runs on handheld PCs. It can synchronize data with Windows desktop applications to send and receive email, for example, or be configured for specific applications in vertical markets such as medical care, inventory tracking, or field work.

Microsoft is also pushing the operating system as the software foundation for future smart phones, wallet PCs, and home entertainment systems.

Since those systems typically use non-PC processors and proprietary hardware, the company is scrambling to provide all-important third-party application developers with a set of tools for building applications that can make systems more marketable. Standard development tools such as the company's Visual C++ 5.0 and Visual Basic 5.0 are intended for development of PC applications running on Intel processors.

Visual C++ for Windows CE includes compilation support for Hitachi and MIPS processors and will support PowerPC, ARM, and Intel processors in the future, according to Keith Szot, a product manager at Microsoft.

The development tool also allows developers to retarget existing C++ code to Windows CE. The tool warns developers of particular features not supported by Windows CE, such as ActiveX and Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) drivers. Szot said Microsoft is planning to include ActiveX support into a future version of Windows CE.

Visual C++ for Windows CE also lets developers run Windows CE applications on their Windows NT desktop with a special emulation mode. Finished applications can be deployed to handheld PCs through standard communications interfaces included with handheld systems.

Microsoft also plans similar Windows CE versions of Visual Basic, Visual J++, and possibly other development tools, although Szot would not comment on specific plans or delivery dates.