Microsoft unleashes new handheld OS

Aiming to play up its Windows heritage, the company on Monday unveils a version of its handheld OS that boasts the new Windows Mobile name--but only a few new features.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read
Aiming to play up its Windows heritage, Microsoft Monday unveiled a version of its handheld operating system that boasts the new Windows Mobile name, but only a few new features.

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The new software is a less radical change than Microsoft made with the original version of Pocket PC or with the Pocket PC 2002 upgrade. Nonetheless, hardware makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer, ViewSonic and Toshiba, are using the new OS to launch new or improved handheld devices.

"This version probably has less new features and is more focused on refining the experience," said Ed Suwanjindar, lead product manager for the Windows Mobile division. In particular, the new operating system is focused on simplifying the connection to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networks, as well as improving e-mail and synching with Exchange--although some of the new features are tied to the forthcoming release of Exchange 2003.

Microsoft also is using the release to rename its Pocket PC operating system. The software now picks up the rather long moniker: Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PC. The move is an attempt to unite both the Pocket PC and Smartphone operating systems under the new Windows Mobile brand.

The new operating system is aiming to appeal more to consumers than prior versions, adding a new built-in game and a program for displaying pictures. Devices using the OS can play slide shows of digital photos and TV programs downloaded from a Windows PC, thanks to inclusion of Windows Media 9 technology.

The new gadgets based on Windows Mobile 2003 add features of their own, such as ViewSonic's Pocket PC V36, which has a built-in digital camera. Such cameras have become popular add-ons for cell phones and in handhelds from Sony and Palm.

While not much has changed on the surface, the new OS is markedly different under the hood. Microsoft has moved the operating system to a new underlying core, using Microsoft's Windows CE.Net 4.2 code base, as opposed to Windows CE 3.0, which powered prior versions of Pocket PC. Microsoft also has added new support for keyboards, although no new keyboard-based devices are being announced Monday. viewsonic

Among the companies announcing the release of handhelds using the new operating system:

• Toshiba plans to introduce two new models, both of which are available immediately. The slim e350 will sell for $299, has 64MB of RAM (random access memory), and is powered by a 300MHz Intel processor, while the $499 e750 has a 400MHz Intel chip, built-in Wi-Fi capability, and 96MB of memory, including 32MB of flash memory that does not get erased even if the device loses all battery power or is reset. The e350 has a Secure Digital (SD) memory slot, while the e750 has both SD and CompactFlash memory slots.

• HP plans to update its two existing lines with new models as well as introduce the new $399 h2200, which is slimmer than the original iPaq design but, unlike the h1900 series, offers both Compact Flash and Secure Digital slots and can act as a remote control for consumer electronics devices. The h1940 adds Bluetooth wireless capabilities and a new 266MHz Samsung processor, which HP says offers better performance than Intel's 300MHz XScale. A lower-priced model with a slower Samsung chip and no Bluetooth abilities will likely show up later this year, HP said. The h5000 line gains two new models; the $649 h5550 has 128MB of memory, a fingerprint reader, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The h5150, which lacks the fingerprint reader or built-in Wi-Fi, will sell for $549, HP said.

• ViewSonic is announcing the Pocket PC V36, which includes a built-in digital camera with 640-by-480-pixel resolution, a 300MHz Intel XScale processor, 64MB of memory, and an SD memory card slot. The device has a suggested price of $329 and is slated to be available in August. The company also plans to sell an optional Wi-Fi card that plugs into the SD slot for $129.

• Gateway is not announcing full details on its first handheld, but says the device is expected to be available next month and is likely to feature a 400MHz Intel XScale processor, dual SD and Compact Flash memory slots, and sell for between $300 and $350.

• Dell doesn't plan to introduce a new model, but does plan to upgrade its existing Axim X5 product with the new operating system as well as offer a custom version of McAfee's VirusScan PDA (personal digital assistant) software. Also, existing Axim customers will be able to upgrade their devices to the new OS for $29, plus tax and shipping.

HP's h2200 Panasonic, JVC and others also are expected to introduce products using Microsoft's new operating system.

With the new OS, Microsoft is trying to make it easier for developers--particularly those already creating Windows software--to make programs for its mobile devices.

As previously reported, Windows Pocket PC 2003-based hardware will have the .Net Compact Framework embedded within the devices' ROM (read-only memory). The .Net Compact Framework is a stripped-down version of Microsoft's .Net Framework, the software needed to run applications written with Microsoft's development tools.

Packing the .Net software onto the devices means that programmers familiar with popular tools, like Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net, can write Windows Pocket PC applications without special training.

Microsoft also plans to embed the .Net Compact Framework into its Smartphone software in the next major upgrade, according to company executives.

News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.