More Power in Your Pocket

Almost unnoticed in the Windows XP hoopla is the big bet Microsoft is making on wireless mobility.

Almost unnoticed in the Windows XP hoopla is the big bet Microsoft is making on wireless mobility. "Microsoft expects 802.11b to be present in most places where people spend time," said Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates in his keynote speech at the companys Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles last month. That expectation complements the Pocket PC platform and sets the stage for next years debut of the Tablet PC.

I wasnt an early fan of the Pocket PC device, falling into the camp that found it too much user interface on too little hardware. But Palm, like Apple, made the error of thinking that you have to be right only the first time. Microsoft is almost always right by the third time—with the Pocket PC 2002 as yet another example.

The typical Pocket PC 2002 will have more capability than the typical desktop PC. Not the typical new PC but the PC thats on most users desks today. At California State University at Los Angeles, for example, students are told that a 233MHz PC with 64MB of RAM will run Microsoft Office Professional; that sounds like a new Pocket PC to me.

Having flirted with multiple processor families, Pocket PC has now converged on the fast, efficient ARM core design; Palm is moving future versions of its operating system toward the same processor, rather as if Apple had long ago decided to exploit the price/performance benefits of being X86-compatible. This grows the market for mobile applications.

Pocket PC handhelds can now cache enough data, and do enough local processing, to stay useful even when theyre not able to contact the wireless network—say, when theyre on the lower decks of an aircraft carrier. I dont hang out on warships myself, but Newport News Shipbuilding is using wireless handhelds and .Net software to streamline ship inspection and repair while preserving application and data security.

Enterprise wireless handhelds are an important center for new corporate projects—in the next nine months, more important than Windows XP.