Developers Back Pocket PC

Microsoft lines up support for latest update of OS from iConverse, My Doc Online and Changepoint.

Handheld devices are only as good as the applications that run on them. Realizing that, Microsoft Corp. brought several application developers up on stage when it launched the latest version of the Pocket PC operating system last week.

New to Pocket PC 2002 are the ability to do instant messaging and support for the 802.11 wireless LAN protocol, said Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash. Other applications include Pocket Outlook, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and Windows Media Player 8 for Pocket PC.

Microsoft is trying to win market share from chief competitor and Palm OS developer Palm Inc. Traditionally, application developers have built applications for Palm OS first and Pocket PC next, but that is changing.

iConverse Inc., for example, decided that Pocket PC 2002 will be the first operating system to work with its new software, code-named Maxwell, which enables users to download enterprise applications and lets them continue to perform job functions even if wireless connections are lost. Maxwell is slated to be available before years end.

"Well be doing it down the road for other operating systems, but we wanted to start with Pocket PC," said Leah Gabriel, a spokeswoman for iConverse, in Waltham, Mass., whose previous products supported Palm OS first. "Were definitely seeing that with our enterprise platform, people are going with Pocket PC."

iConverse and Microsoft are also announcing that developers can use the iConverse Mobility Platform to build customized enterprise applications for Pocket PC. More than ever, Microsoft is targeting corporate customers with its handheld operating system.

Customers said it makes sense to let enterprise customers develop their own applications. "I find there are few out-of-the-box solutions, and if there are, they still need to be tweaked and customized," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia, and an eWeek Corporate Partner.

Rabuck said, though, that he found it slightly ironic for Microsoft to tout third-party developer development platforms; Microsoft already markets its own developer tools. "I think [Microsoft] cripples the development tools market with free Embedded VB/C++ tools," he said. "What incentive do I have to create new development tools?"

Also sharing the stage at the Pocket PC 2002 launch was My Doc Online Inc., of Naples, Fla., which introduced a wireless service for Pocket PCs that enables wireless document management and file sharing, expanded file storage, and fax capabilities. In addition, Changepoint Corp., of Richmond Hill, Ontario, announced a wireless client, geared toward mobile sales forces, that uses XML (Extensible Markup Language) to provide wireless connectivity.

Pocket PC 2002, geared toward corporate users, will be incorporated into handheld devices from Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp., Toshiba Corp., Samsung Electronics America Inc. and other licensees.