Microsoft today unveiled Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, the latest version of its software for handheld computers. Based on the Windows CE.Net operating system, Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC includes a Windows-like graphical user interface (GUI), tools and helper apps, and several companion applications, including Pocket Word and Pocket Excel. It's the third major release of the platform, which debuted in April 2000 and was last updated in October 2001, and Microsoft claims it's the best performing and most stable version yet.
But enthusiasts looking for dramatic changes to the platform will be sorely disappointed. Most of the improvements found in Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC are under the covers. That is, there are few changes noticeable to the general consumer. As Derek Brown, Director of Marketing Communications in Microsoft's Mobile Devices Division, told Brighthand, Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC is all about preparing for the future.
"We put a tremendous amount of work into this release," explained Mr. Brown. "We focused explicitly on building for the future. Two of our primary goals were to: first, unify as much of the code-base for our software for Pocket PC and Smartphone as possible; and second, get on schedule to ship as much of that code as possible on the most current version of Windows CE .NET. We're building a platform with our eye on a "smart mobile device" market that's in its infancy."
But by changing the technical underpinnings of Pocket PC, Microsoft has caused some existing applications to not work, including its own Pocket Money application. However, this appears to be a temporary problem as application developers are sure to address issues with their programs in the next few weeks.
Here's a list of Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC's new features:
The most noticeable changes to Pocket PC are in the areas of communications and multimedia, with an improved Connection Manager for setting up connections to devices and networks, the addition of Pocket MSN, and a new application for viewing and editing images, called Pictures. But one look at the Today screen (see picture below) and you'll quickly realize that little has changed on the surface.
When Pocket PC debuted in April 2000, there were only two common methods for connecting a Pocket PC to other devices and networks: cables and infrared. Now, in addition to those, users are connecting wirelessly with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. And some Pocket PCs are also being used as cell phones. So Microsoft made supporting these new methods of communicating a top priority in Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC.
While the previous version of the platform, Pocket PC 2002, was certainly able to handle Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi networks, and cell phones, it wasn't easy-to-use and it wasn't intuitive. So Microsoft enhanced the Connection Manager (which was jokingly called the Connection Mangler by handheld enthusiasts), added Zero Configuration connections for Wi-Fi (with native 802.1x security support), modem and Ethernet connections, and added native Bluetooth support (along with a Bluetooth Manager and partnership wizard to make it all easier). It also made connecting to Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, much simpler. And it added support for IPv6 and IPSec/L2TP.
The new Pocket MSN app includes support for MSN Messenger, MSN Hotmail, Alerts, and Mobile Web. And in the Inbox, or mail application, they've finally decided to start calling them Accounts rather than Services. It's a one-word change but it sure stumped a lot of novice handheld users looking to set up their email accounts.
As devices have gotten faster and displays have gotten better, multimedia is ready to make its mark in a big way. Music, games, images and video will all be commonplace on handheld computers in the next couple of years. So Microsoft made sure its operating platform is well positioned for the future.
The new Pictures application, which comes with the Premium Edition, enables users to not only view their pictures but edit them as well. This includes the ability to crop, rotate and adjust the contrast and brightness. You can also set one of your pictures as the Today screen's wallpaper.
Windows Media Player has been updated to support playback of Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series codecs. This provides 20% boost in audio compression and as much as 50% for video. It also has an enhanced Windows XP-like user interface.
Pocket Internet Explorer may not appear much different than previous versions but it's faster and takes up less memory. It also supports XHTML Basic, Cascading Style Sheets, WML 2.0, Jscript 5.5 and IPv6.
Pocket PC users can also use the new Plus! Digital Media Edition enhancement pack for Windows XP (available for $20) to create digital photo albums and home movies that can be copied to the Pocket PC. Plus! Digital Media Edition also includes Plus! Sync & Go, a feature that enables you to access news, music and more from the Web. (We'll have more about Plus! Digital Media Edition later this week.)
Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC is available in two configurations: Professional Edition and Premium Edition. Both editions contain Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, MSN Messenger, Pocket Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 9 Series for Pocket PC, and Pocket MSN. The Premium Edition also includes Microsoft Reader, Terminal Services Client, and Pictures, a new image viewer and editor. The Premium Edition can typically be found on devices with 32MB or more of read-only memory (ROM), while Professional Edition is often found on devices with only 16MB of ROM.
Owners of existing Pocket PC devices running Pocket PC 2002 may be able to upgrade to Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC. Check with your device manufacturer on availability and cost of upgrade software.
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