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Windows Mobile 5.0 is a step ahead

Tony Cripps
With Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft appears to have both listened to user demands, and understood and acted upon them.

It offers integration with Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 and SQL Server 2005 Community Technology Preview. Both will assist the development of mobile enterprise applications in particular.

They reinforce the application lifecycle advantages of aligning mobile operating systems with the mainstream application development environment already seen with Microsoft's .net Compact Framework. No rival mobile operating system can boast such development advantages.

Windows Mobile 5.0 has several new or updated application programming interfaces (APIs) for adding new functionality quickly, including location-based services based on Microsoft's Mappoint server, more advanced 3D gaming and multimedia, and Pocket Outlook and camera functions.

Microsoft has also introduced a free, compact managed class library for building Bluetooth-enabled applications for Windows Mobile and Windows CE. This is designed to cut down the development work typically associated with Bluetooth, while allowing developers to keep their intellectual property to themselves.

General tidying up of the code base and better use of hardware resources in Windows Mobile 5.0 is also expected to deliver a 30% increase in usable battery life, pushing Microsoft-powered devices further into the realms of respectability after considerable problems with previous versions.

Windows Mobile 5.0 has a number of upgrades intended to improve the end-user experience, covering both business and entertainment applications. It has several multimedia additions, and interface changes to Windows Media Player will allow users to better organise their files. USB 2.0 support will speed up data transfer with a PC.

But more important is Windows Mobile 5.0's plug-in support for multiple digital rights management frameworks, and Microsoft's efforts to provide access to rights-protected download sources such as MusicNow, CinemaNow, Napster, MSN Music and MovieLink.

The improvements to Microsoft's Office suite for mobile devices add considerable value to Windows Mobile devices relative to alternative mobile OSs, which must buy in third-party products.

Previous versions of Pocket Word and Pocket Office have lacked support for simple formatting such as tables and lists, while "round tripping" a file between a PC, a mobile device and back again could strip out or corrupt elements of documents.

Microsoft says these problems are now fixed and has renamed the applications Word Mobile and Excel Mobile. It has also introduced a PowerPoint Mobile application to reinforce this.

Quicker access to e-mail and MSN services is also included, as is Microsoft's voice command facility, which has only been available for Pocket PC in some territories until now.

Backing up these improvements, is support for persistent storage, which maintains data in the event of an exhausted battery.

Simple synchronisation with a desktop via Bluetooth and (an all new) ActiveSync 4.0 (AirSync) also closes the gap to Microsoft's principal rivals. Before now, this has been possible for end-users to achieve, but fiendishly hard.

With these improvements Microsoft seems to have put its mobile device OS on a surer footing relative to its rivals. And in some cases it is demonstrably ahead, most notably in the increasingly tight integration of the OS with Microsoft's development tools.

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