Microsoft has stolen a march on rival PalmSource with the latest version of its Pocket PC software for PDAs.
Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PCs offers enhanced support for digital media and messaging as well as wireless connectivity using Bluetooth and wireless Lan technology. Developers can now use Visual Studio .net to create applications for Pocket PC devices.
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"With this new release, the focus is not on delivering a bunch of new features but on refining the platform and some key technology areas," said Ed Suwanjindar, lead product manager at Microsoft's Mobile Devices Division.
The upgrade represents the move from Windows CE 3.0 to Windows CE .Net 4.2 as the underlying operating system. Microsoft will use the Windows Mobile brand for its products for PDAs and mobile phones.
The update will benefit enterprise PDA users the most, said Gartner principal analyst Todd Kort. "This release is more important to the IT guys because now they have more confidence that wireless is getting more support. For the consumer there is not that much to sink their teeth into except for the new media player." he said. "Some of the things that users are requesting are not in this release, such as landscape mode and higher resolution displays."
On the wireless front, a new Connection Manager allows devices with 802.11b Wlan or Bluetooth hardware to detect Wlans using the same standard. Connections to mobile phone data networks are now also kept alive if the device is set to standby, allowing users to continue to receive e-mail and instant messages.
Enhanced messaging is further offered especially in combination with Microsoft's forthcoming Exchange Server 2003 e-mail platform.
Improved entertainment features are provided in Windows Media 9, which is now part of the operating system. With the Plus Digital Media Edition pack for Windows, users can create photo albums on the desktop for viewing on the PDA and synchronise audio and video content.
Microsoft also announced Gateway and JVC as new hardware partners. Each will release devices with the new software by the end of the year.
Existing partners include Toshiba, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which will have devices running Windows Mobile 2003 software available today.
Microsoft is gaining market share over PalmSource.
In 2000, the Palm operating system was installed on 65.5% of PDAs, while Microsoft's Windows CE was only on 12% of units shipped. In 2002, Palm's share fell to 55.1%, while Microsoft's share jumped to 25.8%.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service