Pocket PCs Launch in Grand Central Station

Times are good in New York where the Yankees are winning. Microsoft hoped to capture some of that pinstripe magic on Monday, April 17, when the company introduced Pocket PC, the second iteration of its Windows CE OS for handheld devices, in Grand Central Station. The Pocket PC hardware specification includes 32MB of RAM, 133MHz processors, and 16-bit color screens displaying more than 65,000 colors. Pocket PC is bigger, more colorful, more expandable, and has a simpler interface than previous versions of Microsoft palmtops. Representatives from the company and 60 of its developer partners were on hand to demonstrate the new devices. Microsoft hopes to differentiate the Pocket PCs from the Palm Pilot line by storing calendar and contact information and synching with desktop applications such as Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Outlook, Word, and Excel. The bundled applications let you send email, edit documents, listen to music, and access important business information on these devices without additional purchases. The Pocket PC's main draw is as an extension of the Windows desktop. "With the Pocket PC, we're breaking out of the confines of today's electronic organizers," said Brian Shafer, Microsoft's marketing manager for mobile devices. "Other devices are good for things like contacts and calendars, but if you want to access the Web or listen to music or get some real work done, they run out of steam pretty quickly. As people use these other devices, they wish they could do more, and that's where Pocket PC comes in." The Pocket PC platform includes several advances. It has a simplified user interface and an OS that Microsoft says has "greatly enhanced speed and reliability." You can use CompactFlash memory cards in industry-standard expansion slots to add up to 300MB of storage to a Pocket PC device. You can also add cards for a modem, printer access, digital camera, and other hardware devices. Microsoft hopes that these additions make the Pocket PC an attractive development platform and provide the impetus for enterprise application developmentā€”an area that Palm doesn't own. The two Pocket PC devices at the launch, the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Jornada 545 and Jornada 548, come in metal-alloy casings. The devices are 5 inches long, 3 inches wide, and as thick as a deck of cards; each Pocket PC weighs 9 ounces. In addition to special versions of IE, Word, Excel, Microsoft Reader, and other Microsoft products, the Jornadas feature a financial calculator, Conduits' PeaceMaker, Ethernet drivers, special security features, imaging software, music samples, a lifelike 3D golf game, and more. Pocket PCs come standard with Pocket Outlook, Pocket IE, Pocket Word and Excel, Windows Media Player, Microsoft Reader, Microsoft Money for Pocket PC, and Pocket Streets. Microsoft hopes that those applications with multimedia capabilities will differentiate the Pocket PC from its competitors in the Personal Data Assistant (PDA) market. Microsoft Reader with TrueType lets you download and read books, automatically reformatting the text to the appropriate size. The Windows Media player provides sound-file support in a form that includes both significant memory (onboard RAM) and sound output capabilities. Microsoft has posted a FAQ explaining the upgrade path to Pocket PC for current owners of Windows CE devices in an article called "The Pocket PC Upgrade Path". Basically, to upgrade your device you add a ROM chip to the back of your Palm-size PC device. To get this ROM chip, contact your device's manufacturer. This FAQ page also provides links to the different Palm-size PC vendors that support Pocket PC, such as Compaq, Casio, HP, Philips, and Everex. So far, Compaq, Casio, and HP are offering upgrades; Philips and Everex haven't yet announced the availability of their ROM chips. Pricing for Pocket PC is between $500 and $750, which makes the devices about $150 more expensive than the most costly Palm units. Microsoft and its partners hope that consumers will find the extra capabilities worth the money. For more information, see the home page for the Pocket PC.

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