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Windows CEntral (Dec 1998)

Jupiter adds to a universe of confusion

While brainstorming ideas for this column, I debated titling it "Everything Microsoft wants you to clearly understand about Windows CE" and then intentionally leaving the entire page blank. Granted, that wouldn’t be constructive and (although quite creative on my part) I don’t think my boss would see that as really worth paying for. So, now I have to earn my keep by explaining to you what Micosoft is doing with the Handheld PC Professional. But prepare yourself, it isn’t going to be pretty.

What? Microsoft buys Jupiter?
OK, by now you’ve surely heard that about the newest revision of Windows CE, designed for a line of hardware called the Handheld PC Professional (previously code named "Jupiter"). The software is an incremental revision, version 2.1x, and adds a number of corporate user improvements, but offers very little to the consumer. Furthermore, in a private briefing, Microsoft disclosed "price isn’t going to be a differentiator." Instead, size and battery life would be the decisive factors in the CE vs. laptop purchase decision. This certainly sounds like Microsoft has completely ignored the consumer marketplace with their latest Windows CE product entry.

Upgrades are mission critical
While the Jupiter mission stands to be a large benefit to corporate customers, the biggest problem is securing updates for current HPC devices. Last year, when there were only had a handful of devices, Hitachi never upgraded their v1.0 devices to CE 2.0 and Philips took quite a bit of heat by taking an extraordinarily lengthy amount of time to release an upgrade for their popular Velo-1 product. And as the market grows, this kind of problem will be less and less forgivable and more costly to the industry’s image. After all, what good is an upgrade slot if the manufacturer chooses not to fill it? Microsoft informed me that the Windows CE v2.1 features will be an optional upgrade to the current devices. Obviously they can’t control what the hardware vendors do. But there needs to be some sort of commitment by each company as to how well they want to serve their customers so that we can publish it, before the consumer invests money in their products.

Other forces reduce Jupiter’s gravity
Of course, not all the problems can be blamed on Microsoft and hardware manufacturers. There are two sets of external factors affecting the consumer education process. Perhaps recognizing a weakness in Microsoft’s plan, Symbian (the recently formed spin-off of Psion) and Palm have announced a variety of convergence products with wireless and cellular phone communications giants including industry leaders like Motorola, Ericsson, and Qualcomm. In addition, Toshiba’s high visibility Libretto has made the market for ultaportables a more attractive marketplace, but honestly, let the PC vendors come to you. If they can fight Windows CE on their own ground (or at least the ground they’re trying to steal from Palm), it’s all for the better.

But both of these products are going the right way. Computers are getting smaller and handhelds are integrating with other small electronic devices. Microsoft is, once again, charging off in the wrong direction. But since they control the entire army, no one is going to tell the emperor that he has no clothes.

I told them so
While I’d never tell a friend "I told you so," Microsoft isn’t treating us like friends anymore. Last December my column focused on the problem that the Palm-size PC used a different operating system than the Handheld PC. Now, (even this very month) I am still receiving confused emails from readers that don’t understand why the PPC doesn’t have Excel or Pocket Word and can not run downloaded HPC applications. Now, to make it even worse, I asked if a Palm-size PC could be built using the HPC Pro OS. With the improvements made to the operating system, the answer is "yes." So much in fact, that they imagine small, medium, and large form factors for the operating system.

As a writer, I recognize that advertisers pay our bills, but due to this ridiculously difficult-to-comprehend plan and a total lack of informational marketing campaigns, I might also find a healthy paycheck as IT conferences and PDA seminars arise from the need for a stronger educational structure. Please Microsoft, don’t prove me right again. Coming from the Magic Cap platform, I enjoy writing to a "die hard" audience that has an in-depth grasp of the platform. But if Microsoft keeps this up, I’ll have to go from writing in-depth articles to instructional articles. And, let’s be honest, that’s just not as much fun for our "die hard" readers or for me!

-Dan Hanttula is the platform editor for Windows CE and Magic Cap operating systems and the president of HomeRun Advertising.

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