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Windows CEntral
Mar 2000

Unveiling Pocket PC

Everyone knows that Hollywood sometime won't release an iffy movie to the critics until opening weekend so that it doesn't get panned before it's in the theaters. Well, that's exactly what Microsoft has done with CE.

With an NDA that precluded us from discussing specifics of the new version of Windows CE, Microsoft effectively (and perhaps purposely) tied our hands. They have been slowly leaking out news about the incredible applications (Media Player, Reader, Pocket IE/Word/Excel/Money/ Streets/Outlook) that ship with CE v3.0 to generate excitement for the unveiling, but have kept us from speaking about anything else until the launch. Why, you might ask, have they taken this road? Because the Windows CE interface still isn't there.

By now I'm sure you know that what was formerly known as the Palm-size PC is now called the Pocket PC—probably a good move. The name "Pocket PC" gives users a feeling of power. Like they're carrying a ultra-slim super-powered computing device in their pocket. And with all of the great applications on the new system, they truly are.

But change always carries risk and the Pocket PC user interface proves that: The new interface for the Windows CE operating system looks like a team of non-computer user interface experts went to town on it.

The saving grace

After using a Jornada 430se with the new Pocket PC OS installed, I did a sanity check by showing it to an avid Palm user who was familiar with the old version of Windows CE. His response? "I like it!" So far so good, but winning over Palm users might not be the biggest problem the Pocket PC faces. No, the real problem may lie in Redmond's own camp. I've been in meetings where major CE software developers complained about having to rebuild their apps every time Microsoft revs the operating system. Each revision—whether it is incremental (like v2.11 to v2.12) or major (v2.0 to v3.0)—requires developers to rebuild for the new version. And the Pocket PC's new interface needs more than just a quick rebuild of existing code. Microsoft has even admitted to helping developers make the transition.

The problem is getting worse now that Microsoft is undermining their development community by continually adding functionality that used to be third party software to Windows CE. The MP3 players and eBook readers that exist today don't stand a chance against Microsoft's free or built-in applications. Microsoft doesn't seem to understand that its relationship with the developer community must be symbiotic. There won't be many third party applications without a widely accepted platform, but no platform becomes widely accepted without good third party applications. Messing with that fragile eco-system doesn't seem wise, especially since it is already quite small. CE, despite all those thousands that showed up at early CE Developers Conferences has one of the most disappointing third party software lineups to date. It's even more ridiculous when major CE hardware manufacturers call me to ask about the latest changes Microsoft is making. That clearly means Microsoft hasn't adequately educated or informed its hardware partners. Those companies should be selling me on the platform, not vise versa. I really hate having to say all this. I love change. I embrace new functionality. And—although I hesitate to say this—I accept that I will have to pay more money to upgrade. But we'll have to see some change in Microsoft's approach to CE to regain confidence.

Take Responsiblity

So, Microsoft, now that you have gotten yourself into this mess, perform some selfless acts to gain forgiveness with us.

First, stick to the operating system. As is, we never know what you'll call it next or how you'll split it up, or whether it'll even be here.

Second, take responsibility for OS upgrades. It isn't cost effective or profitable for a hardware manufacturer to upgrade a single device. As a result, all too many CE users were left stranded when the Philipses of this world decided it wasn't worth their time to clean up after you. Other divisions at Microsoft form entire business models around upgrades. So make sure we aren't left with devices we can't even upgrade. This is a critical point that you haven't seemed to grasp yet. It is costing you market share and loyalty. Besides, I've seen plenty of current PPCs with beta Pocket PC upgrades, so I know you have the capability to make them. Next, do some real marketing. Palm is kicking your butt with advertising that puts you to shame with a fraction of your budget. You promised us CE devotees advertising last year, then did one measly ad campaign the entire year. And, for Pete's sake, commit to something. I don't care if you call it Palm, Palm-size, Pocket PC or PDA. Just find a name and stick to it.

So help us long suffering CE believers, Microsoft. With all those billions in the bank and with Palm kicking your butt, we really need a bit of support. If you do that, I'd even rename my column Pocket PC News.

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