Pocket Full of PC Apps

SAN FRANCISCO (03/08/2000) - How much software fits in the palm of your hand? A lot, according to Microsoft Corp., which is filling handhelds with its applications.

Microsoft is announcing pocket versions of Excel, Outlook InBox, and Word to populate the Pocket PC, its new platform for digital assistants. Units are expected to ship in the next 90 days from hardware vendors like Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Compaq Computer Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Pocket Word and Excel are already available for handheld Windows CE devices.

Also entering the Pocket PC personal digital assistant is support for e-mail attachments.

"What we did today is unveil a whole integrated e-mail solution," says Rebecca Thompson, product manager in Microsoft's Mobile Devices division.

Pocket InBox improves on palm-size Outlook by supporting document and image file attachments. Access to corporate e-mail programs like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino should increase thanks to new support for Instant Messaging Access Protocol. IMAP also lets you have multiple e-mail folders on your Pocket PC device.

Pocket PCs also support Universal Serial Bus and infrared for fast syncing, Thompson says.

Storage capacity is a big issue in a small device. With Pocket InBox, you can store e-mail attachments on a Compact Flash card or on the device if you have room. Or you can choose to not download attachments, Thompson says.

Most devices will run the professional version of Pocket PC, although a standard edition exists. Pocket PC professional includes personal information management software, Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Reader for eBook, Windows Media Player, Pocket Outlook for E-mail, Pocket Word, and Pocket Excel.

The Compatibility Issue

Pocket PCs include Pocket Word and Excel, which convert PC Word and Excel files to a smaller format that can then be resaved in PC format, Thompson says.

Pocket Word and Excel support version 95, 97, and 2000 of their desktop siblings, says a Microsoft spokesperson. But some analysts are skeptical that conversions will be smooth.

"It's impossible to tell what you'll be able to read," says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Group. "People will try to use attachments, but there are compatibility problems."

Designed to let you view and edit documents on the go, Pocket Word offers some basic Word formatting and editing tools, but editing text on a tiny device is tedious even without a file-conversion question.

Pocket Excel could be useful for updating expenses on the road, but Excel spreadsheets are designed for a full-size PC. It's unclear what you can read when you convert to Pocket Excel, Dulaney says.

Compressing PC software, particularly Windows software, into the size of your palm doesn't mean a PDA can replace a notebook PC, Dulaney warns. He expects Pocket PC strengths to be in electronic books, Web, and multimedia applications.

Software aside, Microsoft's challenge is to produce "a simpler, easier-to-use interface to compete with Palm," Dulaney says.

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