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Microsoft releases Windows CE 2.0

Windows CE 2.0 includes a variety of new features, and is expected to fuel strong growth in the portable computing market.

At the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, California, Microsoft (MSFT) today officially released a new version of its Windows CE operating system that could be used in set-top boxes and larger handheld devices as well.

The newest version of the slimmed-down Windows operating system will add support for 32-bit color screens as well as a greater array of screen sizes, new networking capabilities, and support for additional processors, as reported earlier by CNET's NEWS.COM.

Reflecting the fact that the market for embedded microprocessors is far larger than the market for more powerful PC microprocessors, Windows CE is intended for use in handheld computing devices, new home appliances such as set-top PCs, and traditional embedded applications such as computer peripherals.

Windows CE 2.0's new features will likely fuel its further acceptance in the embedded market.

The new version of Windows CE adds support for the PowerPC processors made by IBM and x86 chips made by Advanced Micro Devices to existing support for the Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) and MIPs chip designs. Windows 95 and Windows NT are closely tied to the use of x86 processors such as Intel's Pentium and Pentium II.

Windows CE 2.0 will allow direct access to file and print servers from within 32-bit Windows-based applications. Handheld devices can now essentially directly access a large number of existing programs through hookups to a LAN (local area network). Some of these programs are too large to run on embedded devices because they have limited memory space, but CE 2.0 supports a new feature that lets a device run these programs by retrieving limited chunks of code as needed.

For users disconcerted by hard to read screens on their Windows CE handhelds, the company is now supporting 32-bit color screens and larger screen sizes as well as TrueType fonts, which will allow for higher quality type quality on a variety of displays.

The new version of CE, in conjunction with more powerful processors being offered, 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.

International Data Corporation (IDC) is predicting 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.