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Windows CEntral
October 2000

Welcome back, H/PC

If you do not own a Pocket PC, you have probably grown tired of all the coverage we have given to that newest Windows Powered platform. Alas, you are also in the minority as Pocket PCs are quickly becoming the most popular device amongst the Windows CE crowd. But fear not, handheld PC user. Microsoft has not forgotten about you, and neither have we here at Pen Computing.

In a column earlier this year (February 2000) I described Microsoft's "PC Plus Era" concept that seeks to merge the appliance and the PC world by using Windows Powered microchips in appliances as mundane as refrigerators. This may result in your house appliances being able to talk to each other, but I didn't touch on how handheld computing devices might fit into this scenario. That's where Microsoft's ".net strategy" comes into play.

The .net strategy is all about convergence of devices, data and communication streams. Microsoft already supports many handheld form factors from the Pocket PC, H/PC, H/PC Pro, and the new "Stinger" Windows CE-based cellphone. Microsoft also has the benefit of its online information portals, (MSN, MSN Mobile, MSNBC, and bCentral) and their corporate Office, BackOffice and Exchange enterprise server technologies. Now Microsoft has announced Airstream, a network infrastructure that connects devices to data. Microsoft also announced the long awaited Handheld PC 2000 platform. Hewlett Packard was first in including the Handheld PC 2000 software into a new device (the Jornada 720Ńsee review on page 46). Hot on HP's heels are NEC (reportedly upgrading both their half-VGA MobilePro 780 and the full-VGA 880), and MainStreet Networks (formerly Vadem) with an update to the innovative Clio 1050. If you read my review of the Jornada 720, you'll notice that I barely mention the new OS because, on the surface, there isn't all that much that has changed. While H/PC 2000 includes a Windows 2000 terminal server client, an Internet Explorer 4.0-compatible browser (that now supports HTML 4.0, XML/XSL, DHTML, JavaScript, animated GIFs) and the Windows Media Player, the real value of the new H/PC 2000 platform lies beneath the surface.

For example, with security always a major concern the new platform has application program interface support for Crypto and Smart Card technologies. The Crypto API (CAPI) allows developers to add another layer of security over the device's existing 128-bit encryption system. Microsoft representatives claim any encryption system can be configured to communicate with the API, making commercial or private encryption systems perfectly viable on a Windows Powered device. The Pocket PC, which launched earlier this year, already has CAPI support, so a multi-platform environment presents no problem for the security conscious. With the exception of Compaq's Aero 8000, Smart Card support is new to the Windows Powered platform. Smart Card already has a loyal following in Europe, where developers are creating Windows Powered Smart Card solutions for banking, financial, and healthcare applications, and even frequent flyer mileage programs. The API sets are so deeply meshed with the OS that the power-up password security screen and other major system functions can be replaced or enhanced with SmartCard security or a customized layer of encryption.

Interestingly, Microsoft chose not graft the simple look and feel of the Pocket PC onto Handheld PC 2000. According to company representatives, that's because many H/PC 2000 devices will be used as server terminal clients. In that mode, the desktop PC controls and functionality will be displayed, and having a simplified Pocket PC interface with Start menu controls on the top of the screen and command bar functions at the bottom would be confusing. I applaud this decision, as I enjoy having a large H/PC Professional device that looks and works like my desktop.

But there is another reason I support the decision not to merge the Pocket and Handheld PC interfaces: Microsoft understands that there is no one "perfect device." Unlike desktop and notebook computers that are all pretty much the same, the Pocket PC and Handheld PC are proof that as devices become smaller and more personal, they require different functionality and different interfaces.

Phil Holden, Microsoft's Windows Powered spokesperson is a big believer in an overall network infrastructure and a move toward a "single ID" lifestyle. He predicts that by next year, an intelligent communications system will know when a Windows Powered users is in a meeting and cannot be disturbed, and will re-route calls to voicemail when the local time is 4 A.M.

I am certain that Windows Powered devices are essential to the next trail Microsoft is going to blaze, and it will all center around the very devices we already carry today.

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