Early Corporate Users Plan Pocket PC Pilots

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Early corporate users of Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC, introduced last week, plan to pilot the device - in one case evaluating its performance against personal digital assistants (PDA) from Palm Inc. - before making a decision on full-scale deployment.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. in White Plains, New York, plans to have guest-room cleaning supervisors test a rugged wireless Pocket PC from Symbol Technologies Inc., while at the same time rolling out a remote check-in and checkout service that uses wireless handhelds.

Testing Casio's Device

EMC Corp. plans to run a pilot using Pocket PC hardware from Tokyo-based Casio Computer Co. with its regional technical specialists who perform high-level maintenance, troubleshooting and repair on storage systems installed at customer sites.

Danny Hudson, vice president of distributed systems at Starwood, described himself as "device-agnostic," adding that at the end of the PDA test, he plans to choose one device for both applications. Hudson said Starwood, which operates the Luxury Collection, Sheraton, Westin, Four Points and W hotel chains, will carefully monitor the Pocket PC's battery life during the tests.

"We want batteries capable of lasting an entire shift," he said.

Starwood's Palm-based remote check-in and checkout system is well along in development and will be quickly deployed throughout the Westin chain, said Hudson. Starwood plans to install the Pocket PC housekeeping system in 50 hotels during the next 10 months in a broad test.

Both the Palm and Pocket PC devices will communicate with wireless LANs installed throughout the hotels. These networks should make it easier for guests to check in and out anywhere on a hotel property, Hudson said, with a PDA-equipped employee able to swipe a credit card "in the restaurant after you've finished breakfast."

EMC technicians have already adopted Palm devices, according to Michael Cipriano, director of customer service at the Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based company's information systems group. But the company decided to pilot the Pocket PC due to "a very significant relationship" it has with Microsoft and the ability to easily synchronize existing corporate systems with the new Windows CE operating system in the Pocket PC.

Stability Is Key

EMC's test will focus on the stability and ease of use of the new Windows CE operating system, Cipriano said. Critics have bashed previous versions of Windows CE.

Recalling their experiences with Windows 3.0 and the third release of Windows NT, Microsoft executives were widely quoted last week, saying it takes them three tries to field a stable platform.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, said he wasn't surprised that some of the early corporate adopters of the Pocket PC were users of the kind of embedded systems made by companies such as Holtsville, New York-based Symbol Technologies, because earlier versions of Windows CE had done well in the embedded market. Dulaney called the Pocket PC an "adequate" platform for corporate users and predicted that in the near term, both Santa Clara, California-based Palm and Microsoft will do well in the corporate market.

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