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MS has yet another crack at handheld PCs

We think the point this time is they're not supposed to sell in stacks...

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The operating system formerly known as Windows CE is coming round for yet another go, this time in the shape of the Handheld PC 2000 form factor. Microsoft's abject failure so far to make a serious go of the handheld/PDA market, or even to nail down a proper definition and stick to it, clearly hasn't convinced the company that it might as well just give up.

And actually, it's probably right to persist. HPC2k is essentially a retread of the "Jupiter" class of CE device Microsoft started pushing, to little visible effect, a couple of years back. the companies that went for Jupiter have thinned out considerably, with only HP, NEC and Sharp putting their hands up for HPC2k, but there are going to be markets for cheapish, robust mobile devices that can work with corporate networks, and if Microsoft keeps on plugging away, it stands a good chance of cracking them eventually.

The new devices are a little more beefed up than the previous generation, coming with thin client software and some tidying to produce more consistency with current Windows desktops. They'll also come with the latest media player, and they'll be out in a couple of weeks, priced high still, at $800-$1,000.

That however isn't necessarily a problem. In corporate and vertical markets (e.g. healthcare) Microsoft has the potential advantage of installed base. HPC2k devices, provided (a big caveat this) Microsoft has got the connectivity right, potentially have ease of integration as an advantage, and there are also factors like down-the-line MS-supporting systems managers, determined to stamp out Palm Pilots in the name of 'security,' to consider. With this in mind, a thin client capability is potentially handy, because if (another big if) you set it up right, you can stop your sensitive data walking out of the building.

And lastly, there's the phony war aspect to consider. Microsoft hasn't made it work, but neither has anybody else. There are a few small specialist outfits shifting small numbers of units, but the predicted volumes haven't happened yet. Sooner or later, though, they will. ®

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