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Why Pocket PC isn't WinCE – Microsoft

Untwist those licensing knickers

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When is Windows CE not Windows CE? When it's part of Pocket PC, it seems.

Last week we wrote about Microsoft's move to allow WinCE licensees not only access to the operating system's source code, but modify that code and release the changes in commercial products (see Microsoft licenses WinCE source code for commercial use)

As a result, we said, "Pocket PC manufacturers will now be able to tailor their system software to better differentiate their products".

Not so, says Microsoft, in a rare moment of pro-active clarification. "PocketPC [is] a separate layer of code on top of the core Windows CE OS... Pocket PC is based on Windows CE, but it's a different offering."

Now we knew that there's more to Pocket PC than Windows CE - the applications, for a start, and the user interface too, apparently. But if Pocket PC contains Windows CE, why are licensees unable to modify the WinCE part, as manufacturers which license WinCE directly are able to? After all, there's no reason why the Pocket PC code can't remain under existing restrictions while the underlying code is open to view.

It's a bit like saying, you've bought the table but you're not allowed to saw the legs down to a better height. Buy the legs to put your own top on, and you can go with whatever height of table you prefer. Or add a shelf. Or include a chair.

We asked how this anomaly arises. "The Pocket PC group is an internal customer that builds on Windows CE, just as an independent software vendor builds on top of the OS to layer on additional capabilities and applications," came the response.

What Microsoft's representatives didn't say was that the company won't allow manufacturers to tinker with anything that's likely to carry a Microsoft trademark, no matter how well that may improve the product, but that's what the current situation amounts to.

Microsoft can, of course, offer its software under whatever licensing terms it chooses. As we ourselves said, the new WinCE licence is more important to unbranded, embedded solutions than it is to the Pocket PC world, but the current arrangement does seem a mite unfair to its Pocket PC partners. ®

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