Microsoft reinvigorates handheld PC push

Microsoft is retargeting the handheld PC market with its recent announcement of a new package of software based on its Windows CE 3.0 operating system.

The additions to the package make this class of device - usually consisting of a stripped-down, built- in keyboard and either a full- or half-size VGA screen - feel more like a standard Windows PC.

Separately, Microsoft has enlisted software and systems integration partners to tailor the handhelds for specific industry markets.

The software, dubbed Handheld PC 2000, now includes Internet Explorer 4.0 as well as a built-in client to connect to Windows 2000 Terminal Services and Windows Media Player for multimedia files.

Also new is a smart card API, which will let computer manufacturers add card readers to these handhelds, effectively locking up any data they hold if the devices are lost or stolen.

Hewlett-Packard's new Jornada 720 uses the Handheld PC 2000 software bundle and is the first of the new devices to include a card reader.

"Microsoft and the hardware vendors seem to have had a hard time positioning these kinds of devices and articulating their value," says Michael McGuire, principal analyst for mobile computing at industry researcher Dataquest.

"Now you're seeing that the initial strong market for these devices - the 'clamshell' units and mini notebook-like computers - will be vertical markets where you're using a product as part of a specific solution, rather than deploying technology in a general-purpose fashion."

McGuire says a key addition is the built-in client for accessing applications on Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition, or Windows 2000 Server.

This means handheld PCs can be bundled with third-party software for a given market, and through the Terminal Services client access business applications running on Windows NT/2000 servers.

The new Handheld PC software is more aggressively targeted at corporate customers in specific industries, such as healthcare, financial services and manufacturing.

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