The company also hopes that Pocket PC 2002 will help to kick-start the flagging PDA market. According to research by Gartner Dataquest, PDA sales in western Europe increased this year by 7%, compared to a 123% increase in 2000.
The decrease in sales is partly due to the economic slowdown and delays in deploying high-speed wireless technologies such as GPRS and 3G, said Gartner. However, many businesses are still holding off on deploying widespread mobile solutions because of the lack of any clear standard operating system, the analysts firm added.
Jonathan Webb, technical director of Ultris, which produces tools for mobile developers, said businesses did not have to be victims of a standards war between rival vendors.
"The old school of thought suggested that if you're developing a mobile application you would build it primarily for one hardware device and one operating system," he said.
Webb added: "Both Palm and Microsoft have committed support to Java and as long as applications are developed to use this standard, there is less danger of getting trapped if one vendor or technology is dropped or starts to fall behind in terms of features or support."
The new Pocket PC operating system is completely upgradeable and is likely to follow the pattern of the desktop OS that offers a new version every few years.
Magnus Ahlberg, Microsoft's European product manager for mobility products said: "In the past, if you needed a new feature not available in your chosen mobile operating system, you were forced to upgrade the hardware. From this release of Pocket PC, users will be able to upgrade the operating system as they would their desktop systems."
Microsoft has forged agreements with third party PDA manufacturers to ensure that each model will have upgradeable flash ROM for both future operating systems and any patches and bug fixes.
Microsoft has implemented two new features to help IT managers cope with the growing mobile workforce: Each device has a unique ID number and the new system has improved network docking support to allow each device to be managed irrespective of how and when it connects to the network.
However, Ahlberg admits that current Windows CE and Pocket PC users may need to tweak applications to run on the new OS, "In general, older applications will work right away, though you could find a few that will need to be rewritten," Ahlberg said. "We are helping software firms move older apps to the new platform and in most cases it is just a couple of days' work."