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Is Windows CE worth the wait?

November 16, 1998
Web posted at: 2:54 PM ET

by Ephraim Schwartz


(IDG) -- Despite Microsoft's announcement last week of a more powerful version of Windows CE, the industry giant is not known as a technology leader.

Microsoft chooses instead to walk on a well-worn path. The strength of the company is in its ability to leverage its size and resources to improve on technologies already accepted by the market. For IT managers, the big question is, is Windows CE worth the wait?

Windows CE made its debut two years ago at Comdex by following the road paved by the Palm OS and its PalmPilot handheld device. When the PalmPilot became one of the most successful new devices in the past five years, Microsoft jumped in with Windows CE and the Palm PC.

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After about three iterations, the forthcoming version -- with the promise of seamless access to corporate data and applications -- may finally satisfy user needs and bring IT managers over to its side.

"Originally, we eliminated the WinCE devices because there was not enough secondary applications available," says Steven Whitehead, in the technical services department at Fuji Photo Films, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

However, the capability to synchronize globally with calendars and scheduling programs in the next version of Windows CE will probably make a difference in the products that Fuji ultimately selects for its field service technicians, according to Whitehead.

"Everyone has their own individual datebook, but we are looking for a groupware product to sync up the schedules of all our technicians," Whitehead says.

The next Windows CE version, code-named Cedar, will also include components so OEMs can create a true Windows CE-based cellular phone OS.

That's no surprise, because by the year 2000 there will be more than 100 million cellular phones sold in the United States, according to Phillip Redman, program manager of wireless mobile communications at the Yankee Group, in Boston.

However, IT departments will not necessarily be happy with the news, especially since cell phones are not usually proscribed by IT departments and proliferate easily because they can be easily expensed by individual users.

As cellular devices gain the capability to access corporate data, IT headaches will increase, according to Steve Dumas, the handheld project leader at 3M, in Minneapolis.

"How are they going to repackage these to get to the back end?" Dumas says. "Seamless integration is the most important piece."

The recent Microsoft-Qualcomm deal will give Microsoft Windows CE instant acceptability as a cellular phone technology, while giving Qualcomm access to a huge installed base of Windows users.

"PalmPilot was the clear winner [last year] because of synchronization, but we continue to watch the market," Dumas says.

Because Microsoft does not believe the convergence of handheld devices will ever take place, the Microsoft strategy is clear: It needs to be available for all devices.

"There is a lot of discussion on convergence of devices. That is not going to happen," says Phil Holden, group product manager for Windows CE at Microsoft. "There will be convergence of the technologies available on many devices," and users will choose according to their own needs.

InfoWorld editor-at-large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Mateo, Calif.

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