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Windows CEntral
January 2001

The need for standards

It was bound to happen. After my positive article on the Pocket PC I received volumes of mail to the contrary. I also got a number of "atta boy's" from Windows CE devotees (and a nice message from my mother who loves Pocket PCs once I pried the Magic Link from her hands). Among all the anti Pocket PC flames, Dave Lodigensky, Vice President of AutoVIN, Inc. was a wonderful letter praising the platform:

"We launched our business in October of 1998 with seven field managers using Philips Velo 500s with CE 2.00. In our first month we completed around 700 assignments. Today we have about 75 field managers using Husky fex21s with CE 2.11. In August we completed more than 6,000 assignments. By the end of the year we will approach 10,000 assignments per month. In performing our field assignments we receive FTP file transfers from our clients on a daily basis. Generally, we update more than 300,000 vehicles/units in our database daily. We automatically dispatch and update assignments directly to our field team's Husky computers via FTP each morning. Nightly, each field manager dials-in and FTPs their completed assignments back to our central system. Results are made available to our clients via the web as soon as they are received from the field. We also take digital images and process them through the handheld device so no post-hoc matching is required. Try to do that on a Palm!"

Dave concluded with '"...we are not undying Windows CE loyalists. We simply believe in using the best tool for the job, and in our case that tool is a handheld CE device.'"

Among those who did not agree with my article, some attacked Microsoft's Pocket PC launch strategy ("weak and far too widespread'"), others complained about how little has changed, some fretted about the things that they miss from prior versions, and quite a few expressed concern over the lack of standards.

For example, we no longer have the safety and security of a standard memory slot. CompactFlash, for all it is not, does have one saving grace: it was the universal connector that all Palm-size PCs used for accessories. HP and Hitachi even added CF slots to their Handheld PC devices because of the growing support. Support that came in the form of CompactFlash modems, digital cellular phone connectors, GPS systems, and many more exciting products that I have seen. The CF slot was Windows CE's open architecture equivalent of Handspring's Springboard slot.

That security is now gone. Compaq's sleek and stylish iPAQ does not have a memory slot. Instead, a CompactFlash sleeve is available as an accessory. I think the expandability that the iPAQ provides exceeds the inconvenience of optional sleeves. But many did not agree. iPAQ owners vocally expressed frustration with the lack of availability of the sleeves.

Or take Casio which launched a line of the coolest and most unique Pocket PCs to date: The EM-500 series—available in yellow, red, green, blue and sky blue—is an attention grabber. What caught my eye is its memory card slot. Almost undetectable behind a rubber cover, it is designed to host an postage stamp-sized MMC (multimedia card memory system) card. This completely negates the use of any of the CF accessories available for the Pocket PC.

In fact, Microsoft's '"Fun Pack'"—available free with the purchase of any Pocket PC—ships with a CompactFlash card containing Pac-Man, Microsoft Reader Books and the Windows Media Skin Chooser, all of which can be launched directly from the CF card. Furthermore, all can be installed to the device's main memory. Having a software delivery system that allows you to install applications without a desktop PC is a key component of a successful platform. Casio has eliminated the EM-500 from taking part in this one-media distribution system. Of course, Casio also produced a CompactFlash digital camera but prevented it from working on any non-Casio device.

Microsoft's Phil Holden claims that Casio is simply ahead of their time as many devices will soon support the MMC format. My editor-in-chief here at Pen Computing said that after using MMC cards for a while, other memory cards seem '"big and bulky.'" Fine, but I still think we need a standard for both delivering software and providing data communications to accessories and other hardware.

For a long time, I had hoped the serial interface on all Windows Powered devices would be standardized: Car dashboards could have universal charging bays, PCs might have a slot for syncing your device, and a single keyboard could connect to any Windows Powered device. Today, the serial port provides some of that functionality, as keyboards, GPS units and bar code readers all connect using the 9-pin RS-232 cable from the docking cradles. Now Pocket PCs are beginning to ship with USB cables because of their speed and plug-and-play. I am not unhappy to see the serial cradles go as keeping one in my car was a bad way to connect with my GPS. But still, we're losing yet another standard


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