Microsoft Launches Pocket PC

Microsoft's launch of its third version of Windows CE for Handhelds, dubbed Pocket PC, went off as planned Wednesday at Grand Central Station in New York. And though fewer than the normal amount of hardware vendors were there to support the OS with products, those that did participate are confident that Microsoft has righted its WinCE ship.

Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the launch party recognizing the early shortcomings of the operating system right off the bat.

"We've had some success, but certainly have not had the ability to inspire and excite consumers," Ballmer said. "We think [Pocket PC] is a quantum leap forward."

At least four hardware makers are agreeing with Microsoft this time around, including Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Casio, and Symbol. Two other hardware OEMs had dropped out of the Win CE camp over the past year.

The devices that were demonstrated Wednesday featured a combination of business and consumer uses. In addition to the traditional PIM (personal information manager) technology expected in a handheld device, the new systems included games, wireless functionality, Microsoft's ClearType technology for e-books, full-featured Internet browsers, and expansion capabilities a la HandSpring's Springboard.

In addition to the devices, Microsoft inked a number of deals with content providers and software developers to better fulfill the promise of its standard platform. TD Waterhouse announced that it would offer trading applications for the PocketPC, as well as give away 5,000 free Compaq iPaq Pocket PCs to selected traders. SAP announced it would bring solutions to the platform as well.

As for actual devices, Compaq unveiled its iPaq with an expansion slot and GameBoy-like controls. Priced at $499, Compaq hopes the device will marry end-users' personal lives with their business needs in one device. It runs on a 206MHz StrongArm processor and carries 32MB or RAM, which is expandable through the slot. It has a color screen and allows for 12 hours of rechargeable battery life.

Hewlett Packard announced the Jornada 540 Series, also a color Pocket PC model with a price tag of $US499. The HP product carries a similar feature set to that of Compaq's iPaq, only it has gone with a more traditional look and feel of a PIM.

Casio announced four models based on the new OS, including the E-115, EM-500, EG-80, and EG-800. Features vary but pricing begins at $US599. Symbol announced a ruggedized version of Pocket PC for vertical applications.

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