It’s long been a complaint among serious Pocket PC users that Microsoft’s own bundled word processor, Pocket Word, is far from satisfactory. The main issue is that many standard features found in the desktop version of Word — from the ability to include tables and images, annotate, and print — are curiously absent. Even relatively minor features were omitted, such as keyboard shortcuts — a niche filled admirably by a cult utility called WordCommands. The addition of a spell checker in Pocket PC 2002 (it also was absent in the original release of Pocket PC) did little to sweeten the deal for consumers who had, in many cases, paid the price of a low-end laptop for a device that did not meet their needs or, contentiously, its advertised abilities.
The conclusion reached by some cynical, or realistic, users was that no competitor for Pocket Word would emerge due to the ease with which Microsoft would squash them in their next Pocket PC update. Who dares risk financial ruin tangling with the Redmond giant? Meanwhile, Microsoft claims that Pocket Outlook programs were designed primarily to view documents, not create them, and that the desktop version of Office should be used for extensive editing. Obviously, this does not address those of us who wish to replace our laptops or desktops with a more svelte writing solution for the train, plane, or lecture theatre. Indeed, it arguably shows the Microsoft philosophy of bending consumers to the product, not the other way around — and, of course, maintaining a torrent of income from Office purchases.
The Microsoft philosophy might still be understandable but for the advent of speedy text input methods for handhelds. Both Palm and PPC users have been blessed for a while now with ThinkOutside’s Stowaway keyboard and its successors, such as the Compaq offering on which I type this article. Without a suitable software companion, these powerful hardware tools are hardly put to optimum usage, and document creation is still tied to a desktop machine for completion — the addition of those page numbers, those tables, and so on. Without even the ability to print directly from the PDA, we’re often still tied to our home machines, unless we purchase a third-party solution, such as PrintPocket CE. (Printing was OS-standard on Psion devices some years ago, we should remember.)
In the Palm world, one of more open competition, users are spoilt for choice when it comes to word processors — the truly excellent Wordsmith by Blue Nomad being just one example. Despite the luxury of high-resolution color screens and beefier vital statistics, Pocket PCs have been left in the dust — until now. Softmaker, a German company, have encompassed WinCE in their multi-platform mobile office suite, OfficeAnywhere. They were originally designing it for Handheld PCs only, but have recently bowed under the deluge of requests from PPC users such as myself. A Pocket PC version, called TextMaker (see screenshot above), is now in the works, and is in beta as I write. It will, for a price, introduce all those obvious features that we have been missing: lossless round-trip conversion, page numbers, footnotes, tables, outlining. Cue blissful sigh. Finally, true mobile document creation is a reality.
As GPRS and Bluetooth devices become more prevalent, it is equally becoming more imperative that mobile devices move to meet their new communication possibilities for mobile creativity. Until now, this has not been the case with Pocket PCs, and writers have been tied to their ActiveSync and full Word at some stage. The chain looks to be breaking at last.
Anthony Newman is a third-year English student at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He is also a Pocket PC enthusiast with an interest in wireless technologies.