PocketPC to debut Wednesday

As reported previously in WinInfo, Microsoft will finally unveil the third major revision to Windows CE as well as the new generation of PocketPC devices that will use this operating system. And though Microsoft's new offering is garnering a lot of praise, there are few who believe it will be enough to stem the flood of support for rival Palm, which dominates the handheld market.

PocketPCs, which will be made available by a variety of hardware manufacturers such as Compaq and Hewlett Packard, will be priced in the $500 range and feature full-color displays, speedier processors, expansion slots, and a new user interface. The new version of Windows CE, indeed, has been slimmed down considerably and made much easier to use than previous versions, which resembled the desktop version of Windows. The Start button is moved to the top of the screen and most applications use a toolbar that rides along the bottom of the display, rather than at the top. PocketPCs will include a full suite of miniature Microsoft applications, such as Pocket Word and Pocket Outlook, that sync up with their bigger desktop brethren.

"We're still a little high \[priced\], but we give a little extra functionality," said Microsoft president Steve Ballmer. "I feel very good about where we are with this."

Also on deck for the PocketPC is the first retail release of Microsoft Reader, Microsoft's ClearType product for eBooks. And all PocketPCs will ship with a new version of Windows Media Player, making the units capable of doubling as handheld audio players: On stereo-equipped PocketPC units, users can pop on a pair of headphones and use the device like an MP3-powered Walkman.

Expect more details on the PocketPC after the official unveiling Wednesday

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