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5/13/2005
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Windows Mobile Gets A Multimedia Upgrade

But new features enhance reliability, security, and ease of use, too

A nifty makeover for the consumer market, Microsoft's newly released Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system has a serious side, too.

With support for pictures, music, and video, Windows Mobile 5.0 incorporates software infrastructure for the kind of multimedia applications popular with consumers. "We want to make sure the formats, the digital-rights management, and the playlists work seamlessly," Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said at the company's Mobile and Embedded Developers Conference in Las Vegas.

Other features are about making Windows-based devices more reliable, secure, and easier to use. In the previous version, Windows Mobile 2003, data would be lost if the device's battery ran out, but adding persistent memory storage fixes the problem, says Jason Gordon, Microsoft's product manager for mobile and embedded devices.

Microsoft wants new features in Windows Mobile 5.0 to work seamlessly, Gates said.

Microsoft wants new features in Windows Mobile 5.0 to work seamlessly, Gates said.
Microsoft has added Wi-Fi support for smart phones, which until now has been available only for Pocket PC devices, as well as support for higher-bandwidth third-generation networks and improved Bluetooth capabilities. Other additions include expanded support for hard drives and USB storage media.

About 40 mobile device vendors and 68 wireless carriers plan products and services based on Windows Mobile 5.0. Wi-Fi-enabled Pocket PCs based on the platform are expected to be available midsummer, with smart phones a few months after that.

Microsoft hopes to gain a larger user base for its smart-phone design by supporting various audio and video formats that scale across devices, Yankee Group analyst John Jackson says. "The idea is to offer these features to whoever wants them regardless of the kind of phone they have," he says.

Cingular Wireless, which offers services based on Windows Mobile 2003, plans to upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0 once compatible devices are available, says Abhi Ingle, executive director of Cingular's Business Markets Group.

Cingular hopes to offer "push" E-mail services without some of the extra middleware that's required now. Today, for example, some wireless E-mail services require server software where E-mail is stored and forwarded to the user. "With Windows Mobile 5.0 and appropriate enhancements, you can essentially eliminate everything in between," Ingle says. "It just works as a system so the device can talk directly to the server over our network." In essence, the services offered by Cingular won't change, but the implementation will be easier, he says.

Windows Mobile 5.0 includes "portable MSN," which lets phones connect to Microsoft's Hotmail service and ties into a downsized version of Outlook for devices. But it's not just about E-mail. "We hear consistently from enterprises [that] they want to have a broad software platform where they can have messaging capabilities in addition to line-of-business applications and access to the infrastructure," Microsoft's Gordon says.

Windows Mobile 5.0 also will let users create charts in Excel and use Word to edit documents with graphics. And PowerPoint is available for Pocket PCs, giving workers the ability to view presentations on mobile devices.

Microsoft competitor PalmSource has been developing a Linux-based smart-phone operating system and working with carriers on related services. Likewise, other wireless carriers are moving to Linux because it gives them more flexibility, says Michael Mace, PalmSource's chief competitive officer.

PalmSource this week launched the Palm Powered Mobile World Program in China and made the Samsung SCH-i539 smart phone available throughout China.

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