Microsoft recently released version 2.12 of the Windows CE OS and Platform Builder to manufacturing. Microsoft plans to release the next major upgrade for Windows CE in the first quarter of 2000. The company is using the code name Cedar for the project that will result in Windows CE 3.0. Microsoft is also developing Rapier, a version of Windows CE 3.0 for the palmtop and eTablet market. Microsoft added numerous features to the latest Windows CE upgrade. You can now use a dial-up bootloader feature to upgrade the OS via flash memory. This version also contains Internet Explorer (IE) 4 control code that OEMs can use to integrate into their applications. The software includes a shell similar to the Handheld PC Pro Shell in Pocket Word and the Inbox applet. Microsoft also added 128-bit security and Microsoft Message Queue Server (MSMQ) support. Version 2.12 also includes Platform Builder DirectX’s multimedia routines and applet, including Windows Media Player, DirectDraw, DirectSound, and DirectShow. When Cedar appears, it will add a raft of new features and provide Windows CE with improved services that the embedded market and appliances space requires. Microsoft released the details of this upcoming OS in the July issue of the Microsoft Systems Journal. Version 3.0 will include a new kernel that contains realtime support. Realtime support lets an OS react to events at a specific time rather than stay in a wait state and require prompting by an application to perform an action at a particular time. It’s a key feature of the embedded market. With the recent release of Windows NT Embedded 4.0 (http://www.winntmag.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=7126), the features Microsoft has added in version 2.12 and those the company will eventually add in version 3.0 signal Microsoft's determination to support Windows CE in the embedded systems marketplace. Windows CE competitors in the embedded marketplace include Wind River Systems and Sun Microsystems' Embedded Java. Cedar will also add a new file system, SNMP, HTTP server component support, improved MSMQ, Telephony API (TAPI) support, Universal Plug and Play (PnP), and FireWire support. Platform Builder 3.0 will also add new Control Panel applets and the means for developers to more easily write their own control panels. This substantial rewrite of the OS might also include DCOM. The Rapier project adds even more advanced features to Windows CE for palmtops and eTablets. A new version of the OS will add rich ink support, handwriting recognition, and wireless support. Microsoft plans to keep tighter specifications on Rapier than Cedar and allow for fewer developer changes. Windows CE has come under criticism in the media for having too complex an interface for such a small screen. As a result, Microsoft plans to continue to simplify and streamline the Windows CE interface, while still providing features that Windows users will expect and understand. Many industry analysts expect the handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market to heat up dramatically over the next 6 months to a year. In addition to new versions of the Palm OS and new hardware appearing from 3COM, Psion Enterprise Computing has released the netBook handheld PC running the EPOC OS. netBook competes directly in the enterprise connected market that Windows CE targets. netBook offers Java support and runs the 50KB MQSeries Everywhere software that works with IBM’s MQSeries messaging software to provide database and messaging connectivity. Psion just released the Series 5mx, a $549 list price, 12.5 ounce device that lets you get email or browse the Web on your cellular phone. Psion has a successful line of handhelds in Europe, and the company spun off EPOC software and its 32-bit OS as a separate company called Symbian a few years ago. Ericsson, Matsushita, and Nokia have investments in Symbian, and Symbian plans to develop EPOC for the connected mobile phone market. In Europe, EPOC has the same devoted developer following that the Palm OS has here in the United States. One consultant described EPOC as being more intuitive and easier to program than other handheld OSs. Windows CE links to desktop applications such as Outlook and to Exchange and lets users get their email and perform scheduling tasks, although some reviewers report difficulties with these links. According to some developers, creating direct data exchange with server applications and Windows CE has been difficult. However, Microsoft has just released ActiveSync 3.0, which the company claims will make synchronization between Windows CE and the Windows desktop easier and faster. For more details about ActiveSync 3.0, see http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce/products/highlights/activesync_ie4.htm.