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Microsoft preps Windows CE 2.0

The next version of the Windows CE is expected to be announced at the end of the month, a move expected to give rise to a host of new portable computing devices.

Microsoft (MSFT) is readying the next version of the Windows CE for release at the end of the month, a move that is expected to give rise to a host of new portable computing devices.

Windows CE version 2.0 will likely be unveiled publicly at the end of September at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, according to sources. Microsoft will also discuss it, before the official announcement, at its Professional Developers Conference.

The newest version of the slimmed down Windows operating system will add support for color screens as well as a greater array of screen sizes, networking capabilities, and for the first time, support for processors using Intel-architecture chips.

The new version of CE, in conjunction with more powerful processors, will give rise to a number of new mobile computing devices and set the stage for CEs use in consumer electronics devices such as Internet set-top boxes.

At the PC Market Outlook Conference this week, International Data Corporation (IDC) said the market for portable "PC companion" devices will splinter this year into several new segments.

Companies are set to ship what IDC terms "beefy" PC companions which will come with either color or monochrome screens that are larger than those offered in current handheld PCs such as the Velo1 from Philips and larger keyboards for touch typing. The devices will be similar in size to Toshiba's Libretto mini-notebook, which weighs under two pounds. IDC expects these devices to be priced between $700 and $1000.

Hitachi recently introduced a new 80-MHz SH-3 processor and chipset for use with Windows CE 2.0 that could be used in devices such as Internet appliances, next-generation handheld PCs, and even cellular phones, according to the company.

More powerful versions of processors based on the MIPs architecture from Silicon Graphics (SGI) will increasingly be used in Windows CE 'tethered' applications, or devices which are not mobile--like handheld devices--and require a power source, according to Bill Jackson, market development manger for embedded products at SGI. Such devices might include Internet access terminals similar to the WebTV (which uses a MIPS processor). Philips and NEC already use MIPS-based processors in their handheld PCs.

Not only will new Windows CE devices come in larger form factors--devices smaller than today's handheld PCs are on the way.

Microsoft is working on a version of Windows CE that will work in so-called wallet PCs (which are similar in size and function to the PalmPilot) by early 1998, according to IDC. These devices are expected to have the functions of the traditional personal information organizers but will include more extensive communications capabilities.