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By Chris De Herrera 
Copyright 1998-2007
 All Rights Reserved
A member of the Talksites Family of Websites

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My Perspective: The Current State of Windows CE - 2000
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2000
 
Revised 10/15/2000

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Introduction

A little over a year ago, I wrote the article My Perspective: The Current State of Windows CE for Enterprise Solutions Magazine.  Since that article there have been many changes in the PDA marketplace.  This article is my current perspective about Windows CE and where it sits with the competition.

The Current State of Windows CE

I feel it is very important to address the competition and issues facing Windows CE in the enterprise market. Right now there is an onslaught of options for companies to choose from. Critical examples of the competition include the 3Com Palm VIIx, Palm Vx, Handspring Visor Deluxe, Sony Clie and Subnotebooks and Embedded Windows NT. These units exemplify the interoperability issues Windows CE devices face in the enterprise. 

Palm OS Devices

Windows CE faces formidable competition first from 3Com's Palm computers. Palm has been viewed as the de-facto leader, however they have been implementing changes in their products.   I have not seen Palm release major application features in their revisions to their operating system which is now up to version 3.5.    This release was the consolidation of 3.1 through 3.3 which added support for web clipping and secondary storage and added color support.

Palm Storage

During the past year, Handspring and Sony have released their Palm OS based devices. Their decision to support radically different storage options fragments the marketplace.  Rather than leveraging the existing PC Card, CompactFlash, or MultiMedia Card formats, Handspring has chosen to create it's own standard called Springboard modules.  Springboard modules are still overpriced compared to the marketplace.  The 8 MB flash module is still the same price it was last year ($80) while the price of CompactFlash continues to drop.  Sony did not make the situation any better.  Their decision to support their Memory Stick in the Clie continues this trend towards the inability to share information between Palm OS devices.   Right now there are 3 different types of storage for Palm - CompactFlash (TRG), Memory Stick (Sony) and SpringBoard (Handspring).

Palm Color

Further, since last year, Palm tried to go head to head with a color Palm IIIc at a similar price point to the Pocket PC.  I have used a Palm IIIc and it suffers from performance limitations such as waiting noticeably write to the screen.  I think this performance drag is due to the lack of power that the Motorola Dragonball CPU offers at a blazing 20 mhz.  This CPU speed is the same as the Palm Vx as well which performs much faster with it's black and white screen.   Further, it was interesting to read that Sony will introduce it's color Clie in Japan only.  Handspring  has been rumored to have a color Handspring as well.  According to Palm OS v 3.5 documentation they only support up to 8 bit color which is inferior to all the color Pocket PCs which have either 12 or 16 bit color.  Users will notice this when they view pictures.  The fewer colors supported makes the images look blocky.  Since the screen size is 160 x 160 compared to the 320 x 240 Pocket PC displays you can't see as much detail either.  This is where the Pocket PC shines, especially the Casio Pocket PCs which all have 65,536 color support.

Palm Wireless

The Palm VII was acclaimed as a great solution using wireless even though it just sent text from websites you selected in advance which is not what I call the same as accessing the internet.  Since then, Palm has enhanced the Palm VII by increasing the ram to 8MB in the Palm VIIx.  Handspring has been focusing on adding wireless Springboard modules for CDMA and other wireless technologies. They also announced their VisorPhone which integrates voice and data capabilities which they intend to offer next year.  The VisorPhone will be competing with Windows CE based solutions such as Stinger and Symbian's Quartz. Of all of these wireless devices, Palm's display is still the smallest in terms of the number of pixels.  With the iPAQ Pocket PC, users can now access wireless LANs via 802.11 and nationwide networks like CDPD which are faster than the network the Palm VIIx uses.  Both Palm and Windows CE devices can be connected via their serial ports to CDMA and GSM cellullar phones.  This functionality works better on the Pocket PC because of the support for html e-mail and attachments which the Palm struggles with.  You can even browse the web with your Pocket PC (with or without graphics - your choice) via the cellular connection.  In order to do this with Palm, you would need to install a 3rd party web browser.

Palm Connectivity

Right now Palm devices have a serial to Ethernet cradle which is much slower than directly connecting.  One major advantage that all Pocket PCs and Handheld PC 2000 devices offer is the ability to use Ethernet to directly connect to the enterprise.  This is where the Pocket PCs and H/PC 2000s are able to work without desktops to access the internet at high speeds. 

SubNotebooks

The subnotebooks continue to languish with the same functionality issues I described in the prior article.  I anticipate that Windows ME or Windows 2000 are trying to make systems more stable through automatic repair functions.  However, this does not compare to the ease of use of a rom based system which users can't corrupt as easily.

Embedded Windows NT

Embedded Windows NT never materialized as a competitor in the enterprise for user devices.   I doubt that OEMs will offer Embedded Windows NT devices for users that compete with Windows CE due to the size and costs to manufacture a device.

Getting Interoperability in the Enterprise

For Windows CE to overcome the competition, it must be able to seamlessly integrate into the enterprise.  Microsoft needs to really change the way that Windows CE integrates into the enterprise.  Currently, CE requires changes to Exchange to support POP3 or IMAP4 and the use of a WINS  server for a complete solution. Microsoft needs to offer Server-based synchronization.  Right now users must use XTND Connect Server to offer this functionality.  Microsoft has made great inroads in making the synchronization process work.   The introduction of ActiveSync 3.0 has made synchronization simpler and easier for users. My concerns about offering advanced technology such as VPN (virtual private network), IP multicast and IP6 support to Windows CE at the same time it is available for other Microsoft operating systems were not addressed.  I hope to see this change in the next year,  Finally, Microsoft added Pocket Word and Pocket Excel as part of the Pocket PC which I believe is very critical for enterprise users.  In the future, Microsoft must add features that users have taken advantage of since early versions of Microsoft Word, including tables, headers and footers, as well as the ability to retain formatting.   It was refreshing to see the functionality for reading eBooks using Microsoft Reader on the Pocket PC.  This should allow corporate customers to distribute their own internal reference documents in a format that their users can annotate and read while being mobile.  It was unfortunate that Microsoft Reader was not included in the H/PC 2000 though. 

My Final Word

Microsoft must offer features and functionality that mirrors the desktop. As Windows CE continues to improve, it must be interoperable by itself with desktops without loading additional software. Further, the feature set of Pocket applications must cover at least 50% of what the standard Office applications do. I hope to see continued progress in the functionality and interoperability of Pocket PCs and Handheld PC 2000s in the enterprise.  


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