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Device Upgradeability FAQ
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2008
 Version 1.00  Revised 7/16/2008

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One of the most common questions users ask when Microsoft announces a new operating system is whether or not they can upgrade their existing Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone.  This FAQ covers the issues and availability of new operating system upgrades (commonly called ROM upgrades) so users can better understand the challenges that OEMs and carriers face in releasing upgrades.

What Does Microsoft Do to Prepare for an Upgrade?

Microsoft works on creating the upgrade of Windows Mobile.  Windows Mobile is composed of two sets of programs:

  1. The operating system which is called Windows CE.
  2. Applications  such as Word, Excel, Windows Media Player, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks.

Microsoft decides what new features will be incorporated from the Windows CE operating system and combines them with the user interface and applications of Windows Mobile.  This is a complex process to ensure that the functionality that the applications require is built into the operating system.  Microsoft works with the OEMs, Carriers on possible upgrades for devices.  Also, Microsoft works with the developer community to ensure that their applications work well on the new operating system as wel. 

What Does OEM or Carrier Do to Prepare for an Upgrade?

While yes, Microsoft does most of the work in creating a new operating system for Windows Mobile, there is a signficant amount of additional work required for OEMs and Carriers.  The OEMs focus on ensuring that their device drivers and their custom applications will work with the new Windows Mobile operating system.  They also focus on optimizing their drivers specifically to extend the battery life based on common usage scenarios such as standby and talk time for cellular communications. For the Carriers they have to test each release to ensure that the Windows Mobile device works well with their network.  This testing can take an extended amount of time depending on the carrier.

Can I Upgrade My Existing Device?

Conceptually the Windows Mobile operating system and the design of devices since Windows Mobile 5.0 have supported the ability to be upgradeable.  Of course with all of this development and testing require developer's time and testing time which in the end all translate to an additional cost which the OEMs and Carriers have to consider when deciding what devices will be upgradeable.  So it is truly up to your OEM or Carrier to offer an upgrade. Also, OEMs and Carriers only support upgrades they offer their customers.

What About the Upgrades I Find on the Web?

In some cases there have been 3rd party upgrades for Windows Mobile devices.  However only upgrades are made available from OEMs and Carriers.   If you download a rom upgrade from a 3rd party, do not expect the OEM or Carrier to provide you with support since they did not build or test it.  Also, keep in mind you are taking a risk of damaging your unit to the point where it will no longer operate.

How is it a ROM Upgrade when Windows Mobile Devices Use Flash?

A Windows Mobile upgrade is really not a ROM upgrade.  ROM stands for Read Only Memory which was the term used to describe chips that store a program and were not upgradeable.  Windows Mobile actually uses flash storage (yes, just like your camera) to store both a read only copy of the Windows Mobile operating system and the data file you store on your device internally.  Some Windows Mobile devices include extra programs stored in flash and installed when you hard reset your device.

Do I have to Perform a Hard Reset When I Upgrade?

Yes you need to erase all your data off of your device when you perform an upgrade of a Windows Mobile device.  This is because the format of some information changes with each release.   So be careful if you restore your old data using a program like Sprite Backup.  Your data may not work with the updated rom.   Instead i suggest that you copy all critical data to your PC via ActiveSync or on a flash card prior to perform the upgrade.

Is Program "X" Compatible with the Upgrade?

Generally existing programs for your Pocket PC or Smartphone is compatible when you upgrade your Windows Mobile device.  However just to be sure, I suggest that you check with the software developer of your application to ensure it has been tested with the new operating system.

Is Peripheral "X" Compatible with the Upgrade?

Since the device drivers do change with some releases of the Windows Mobile operating system, you should check the hardware manufacturer's websites to ensure that you have the latest driver.

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