My Perspective: The Current State of
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The Current State of Windows CE
Since this is the premiere issue of Enterprise Solutions for Windows CE, I feel it is very important to address the competition and issues facing Windows CE in the enterprise market. Right now there is an onslaught of options for companies to choose from. Two critical examples are the 3Com Palm III, V and the sub-notebook PCs running Windows 98. These units exemplify the interoperability issues Windows CE devices face in the enterprise. Also, will embedded Windows NT compete with Windows CE?
First Competition - 3Com Palm
Windows CE faces formidable competition first from 3Com's Palm computers. Palm has been viewed as the de-facto leader, however they have recently decided to make some radical changes in their products. Robin Abrams announced that they would be designing color Palm devices, secondary storage drivers (CompactFlash or PC Card) and new versions of the Palm Operating System every six months. Based on what I have read about Palm's single storage philosophy and simplicity model, these changes are in response to the new Windows CE Palm-size PCs. The ability to take information with you rather than just being a viewer of information, through the uses of storage devices like the IBM MicroDrive, CallunaCard hard drive and CompactFlash cards, are forcing Palm to change their single storage model. Adding multimedia to these features has made Palm switch to six-month design cycles. The annual releases for Windows CE have made hardware systems completely obsolete after 2 years (first year latest product, second year with a ROM upgrade.) But I wonder how many consumers and corporations are willing to implement systems when the next release will be out before you complete the implementation of the initial rollout. Clearly this is an issue Windows CE faces as well.
Second Competition - Sub-Notebook Windows 98
Sub-notebook Windows 98 systems are available in the marketplace at similar price points to the H/PC Pros. Initially, they may sound like a good solution; however, the purchase price of Office software along with the configuration of these systems makes them more expensive. Furthermore, these systems have the same problems that larger notebooks have - battery life and features. All the sub-notebooks require external floppy drives and CD-ROMs, plus the battery life is still short, approximately 2 hours. This pales in comparison to the H/PC Pros with battery lives from 6 to 15 hours. I agree that the limited functionality of the pocket applications is a compromise, but the H/PC Pros cannot be corrupted to the point where they don't have their applications installed by a mistake that a user makes. Windows 98 suffers from this fate by design. The only big advantage that the sub-notebooks offer is identical functionality to the enterprise. The question for Windows CE users is, does it offer the features that users need at a reduced cost of operation? In many cases, Windows CE is much easier to operate and more easily maintains simple user needs than Windows 9x or NT, especially for part-time or beginning computer users.
Third Competition - Embedded Windows NT
Microsoft has discussed publicly bringing Embedded Windows NT to the handheld computer space. This will offer corporations the ability to choose a more sophisticated operating system and features which are identical to the desktop, while minimizing the installation woes of the IT department since the NT operating system would be in ROM. Right now, there are no examples of handheld computers that run Windows NT. But I anticipate that Microsoft will find a way to deliver this option. As one would expect, there are major hurdles in terms of pricing and storage requirements. Because of this, I do not anticipate that Embedded Windows NT will be in palm-size PCs or consumer appliances.
Getting Interoperability in the Enterprise
For Windows CE to overcome the competition, it must be able to seamlessly integrate into the enterprise. Currently, CE requires changes to Exchange and the use of WINS on the server for a complete solution. Microsoft must offer a native Exchange client to make it easier for corporate IT departments to use Windows CE. Server-based synchronization is a must, especially since applications like RiverRun Software's All in Sync! and Puma Technology's Intellisnyc Anywhere offer it already, and the synchronization process must be made simpler, working the first time and every time. Microsoft must also offer advanced technology, such as VPN (virtual private network), IP multicast and IP6 support to Windows CE at the same time it is available for other Microsoft operating systems. Finally, pocket applications must support features that users have taken advantage of since early versions of Microsoft Word, including tables, headers and footers, as well as the ability to retain formatting
My Final Word
Microsoft must offer features and functionality that mirrors the desktop. As Windows CE continues to improve, it must be interoperable by itself with desktops without loading additional software. Further, the feature set of Pocket applications must cover at least 50% of what the standard Office applications do. I hope to see continued progress in the functionality and interoperability of Windows CE in the enterprise.
You can to Enterprise Solutions for Microsoft Windows CE, a free quarterly publication for qualified users.
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