Future Clouded by Windows CE.NET
Recently I read an article from Pen Computing called Windows CE.NET by Geoff Walker. Based on what I read, Microsoft has plans to integrate into a future release (possibly "Macallan") the look and feel (GUI) of the Pocket PC into Windows CE.NET. Further they plan on spinning off the Pocket Office features to be a separate product that would work with Windows CE.NET as well. Also, the additional discussion about supporting various size screens leads me to believe that we could see a variety of different size screens with the Pocket PC GUI on them. All of these announcements are somewhat disturbing for the Pocket PC's future.
It appears on the surface that Windows CE.NET could compete head to head with the Pocket PC and the Handheld PC if Microsoft releases Pocket Office (ie: applications like Pocket Word and Pocket Excel among others). I believe that Microsoft must release Pocket Office for Windows CE.NET in order to offer a product to compete with others in this space such as Clear Vue.. If Microsoft did not create Pocket Office then their customers would choose the alternatives and I'm sure Microsoft would not want that marketplace to go to a competitor. Further, I hope that Microsoft keeps the Pocket PC version of Pocket Office in sync with the version the release for Windows CE.NET. If they did then users would receive the same experience using Windows CE.NET and the Pocket PC.
Pocket PC GUI
The introduction of the Pocket PC GUI to the Windows CE.NET platform provides the ability for developers to more easily port their applications to the Pocket PC. While easy porting of applications is desirable, I believe it will thoroughly confuse software purchasers. Software developers will need to be very clear about what software is supported on the Pocket PC versus Windows CE.NET especially since screen shots of the applications may look identical. The onus is on the developer to clarify what devices their applications work on and what they support.
While increasing the available screen size for the Pocket PC may be ideal for some implementations, the usability of these applications across different screen sizes will result in different user experiences. Again, developers have the responsibility to explain to users what screen size they support on devices and how their application will address solutions like Nyditot which allow the user to increase the virtual screen size on the Pocket PC. Overall this is just another issue that will cloud the user's expectations of the applications and I hope developers are able to communicate this clearly.
Overall Microsoft looks like it is preparing to create another market for Pocket Office in Windows CE.NET. I really hope that they add the major features that users really want in both the Pocket PC and Windows CE.NET versions. Clearly, these decisions are in the best interest of Microsoft as a whole. However I am greatly concerned about what may happen to the Pocket PC. If consumers have a multitude of choices that look identical, then how will they choose the Pocket PC out of the crowd? Further, Microsoft may choose to drop the Pocket PC entirely and allow the OEMs to create their own devices with the Pocket PC GUI and Pocket Office as well as 3rd party applications. I believe that if OEMs consider this path, they must focus on making sure that they maintain the tight integration of applications on their device. Clearly, the decision to release this information does cloud the future of the Pocket PC as we go forward.