by January 4, 1999 0 comments

Compaq’s new Aero 2100 Windows CE palmtop packs a 256-color TFT “reflective” display, and 16 MB RAM, with a screen 44% larger than the Palm’s. There’s a Palm-like cradle and infra-red sync. In addition, there’s a CompactFlash slot (smaller than a PC card) for a modem or LAN card. The battery lasts 10 hours on a charge (that’s about a week of use, says Compaq). There’s voice recording; text-to-speech will be added later this year, to read out e-mail. Price: about $600 in the US Windows CE runs on handheld and palmtop PCs. It
looks like Win 95. But it runs special CE apps, such as the included Pocket Office apps.

CE spells “Consumer Electronics”, part of
Microsoft’s vision of appliances running Windows. Its edge is the familiar Windows
look. That’s also a problem. The attempt to “scale down” Windows from the
desktop and force it into the tiny pocket screen. PDA users don’t really want a
desktop copy: only certain apps, efficient and quick. Then there’s the power consumed
by all those graphics. And CE apps are big: up to hundreds of kB, compared to the 30 kB
typical Palm OS app.

Unlike Palm OS, CE does not itself support handwriting
recognition, though it does use a touch screen and stylus. Some CE devices have
third-party handwriting programs bundled.

CE is now in version 2.11, which is part of
Microsoft’s “Windows CE HPC Pro Edition 3″…which works with CE
Services 2.2 for “hot syncs”…(no, we don’t understand the version numbers

CE is stored on ROM, and you can upgrade by replacing the
ROM or, in a few models, flash-upgrade the OS. CE 2.11 packs several improvements,
including a nice new e-mail client that adds IMAP4 to POP3/SMTP support and also converts
Office file attachments to Pocket Office formats.

CE 2.11 has better support for palmtops (distinct from
handhelds, which usually have keyboards). There are quick-launch buttons for contacts,
appointments, notes, etc, and these are customizable. There’s Voice Notes support,
and this is where CE now has an edge over the Palm: multimedia. And the freeware numbers
are catching up. You can download PowerToys for CE free… with a one-tap Mute,
cascading menus, a paint app. And Business Card, to swap contact data using IR between CE
devices (something Palm OS does with remarkable ease).

Among the new all-color CE devices to hit the shelves is
the HP Jornada 820, more of a sub-compact notebook, with a nice keyboard, USB port, and
TFT color. And the spectacular new Compaq Aero.

CE devices take up just a quarter of a market dominated by
Palm devices from 3Com. But IDC predicts that with Microsoft’s force behind it, CE
will rule, crossing 8 million units–60 percent of the market–by 2002. Several
dozen devices are out from many vendors, while the competing Palm is from a single
vendor. But 3Com, too, is now licensing Palm OS to clone-makers, and that could upset
IDC’s predictions.


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