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By Chris De Herrera 
Copyright 1998-2007
 All Rights Reserved
A member of the Talksites Family of Websites

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Pocket PC Tour
at the Sheraton, Boca Raton, Florida
By Bruce Turner, Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved
Revised 4/7/2000

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Introduction

My name is Bruce Turner and I've been using Windows CE machifes for two years. By trade, I'm the Senior Pastor at the Central Baptist Church in Melbourne, Florida. Our staff has benefited greatly with our NEC handheld PC's. (750C, 770 and 780)

On the Way

With great anticipation I head south to Boca Raton and the Sheraton, site of the Pocket PC Tour. Being a native Florida, born in Miami, the drive feels familiar. Though the traffic was thick, I arrived at the Sheraton in time for supper. I begin this article sitting in the "Meson Madrid" restaurant dining on "Shrimp Diablo." (Some like it hot!) In the words of an old beer commercial "It doesn't get much better than this." Did I say that? ;>) Eating shrimp and listening to Flamenco guitar music while waiting for my first peek at the new Pocket PC's.

Five dollars for ten raffle tickets and here we go...wish me luck!

What's that I hear? Sound check for the new Windows Media Player? Not bad!

The Presentation

There were around 250 people present for the Tour, most from the Gold Coast Users Group. The presentation of the Pocket PC was given by Jim Floyd, product manager and Brian Shaeffer, International Marketing Director who also had been the product manger for the new Active Sync 3.0 and now 3.1 for the new Pocket PC. Both were from Redmond. I thought they gave a great presentation though they were somewhat hampered by the fact that this was the first one and that somebody forgot to supply a video switching device, causing them to have to do a lot of cable switching.

Unfortunately they were not able to show any actual product since the official launch date is April 19th and the design of HP's, Compaq's and Casio's units are proprietary with them. What we did see is what other MVP's have shown us in screen shots...a souped up Jornada and a Casio 105.

They began the presentation talking about how they were really motivated by the feedback that they had received from their customers. Primary feedback revolved around two things. First was that some thought the device was too complex to use. Second was that the user interface was thought to be to cluttered. They commented that 80% of the development of the Pocket PC focused on the operating system itself and the user interface. The other 20% went to adapting the Office apps for the palm form factor.

A major emphasis for them was the new memory management system. This is the way RAM use by programs is monitored, automatically shutting down unused programs when more memory is needed. According to Jim Floyd the new system is "bullet proof". They also readily admitted that the old system was not good.

ActiveSync 3.1 Demo

The demonstration began with showing how to install ActiveSync on a Windows 2000 PC. They mentioned that their desire was to have a "6 click" installation process. The ActiveSync version that they installed was 3.1, the one designed for the new Rapier operating system. It, of course, will come with the Pocket PC but also be available for download of their web site. the new ActiveSync has the features necessary to use some of the new abilities of the Pocket PC such as Mobile Favorites and the syncing of media with the upcoming Media Player 7.0, available now in beta form.

Throughout the presentation they demonstrated several different types of peripherals. They showed off the new Compact Flash USB card from Socket, Pretec's CF modem, LAN cards and several CF storage devices.

The database on the demo machines were hefty with over 1,000 contacts, 500 e-mails, and over 200 tasks. Sync was extremely fast...less that 30 seconds through the USB port. Finding contacts was incredibly fast. This, to me, was the most impressive thing about the new Pocket PC. It was blazing compared to everything else I've seen.

What I Liked

There were a number of other things about the new user interface that I really liked. First was the "tap and hold" feature, like right click on a mouse seems very helpful and expedites things. When you tap an item, say a contact, it opens up a dialogue box with other helpful options. A phrase they used, "Bury the forms...bring out the data" seemed to be a driving force in removing the clutter.

Second, the Start button has been moved to the upper left hand corner, a more natural place like a book. It was a planned, purposeful move according to the presenters, not just a meaningless addition to accompany a new OS.

Third, the new interface two dimensional rather that three dimensional, thus conserving pixels and the associated space.

They went on to demonstrate all the standard onboard PIM related programs. For a someone who presently uses a CE device, the presentation began to slow down a bit here.

Business picked back up when they got back into some new features, such as the new Peacemaker software which allows Palm users to beam cards with CE machines. The tap and hold feature will reveal the "Card Exchange" feature. They demonstrated beaming a card from a Palm III to the Casio.

They showed the new "Notes" feature and how it synchronizes with Outlook. It was seamless and very impressive.

In the character recognition arena they demonstrated three different methods. "Recognizer" was an interesting option they added. He wrote "Mom get milk" and then clicked recognizer and it correctly translated it. "Transcriber" made a less successful showing and provided some needed humor.

The new browser was great. I especially liked the "Mobile Favorites" feature where you can have selected pages that are refreshed regularly on your desktop automatically sync with the Pocket PC to however many levels you choose. It was seamless and a marked improvement over "Mobile Channels."

Bluetooth and Pocket PC

They talked a little about wireless options and specifically "Bluetooth." While stating their un equivocal support and enthusiasm for it, they also warned that it was going to take some time for all that people desire to become reality. They cautioned us to look very carefully at what vendors promised with Bluetooth in the "immediate" future as there were still some key issues that needed to be dealt with. They illustrated that by getting us to imagine what it would be like if everyone in the room had either a Bluetooth enabled phone or PDA. The resulting confusion would be incredible at this point as the technology doesn't exist yet to distinguish who's who. It was none the less interesting to here them say that with Bluetooth, the day would come when your Bluetooth enabled cell phone could be in a bag across the room and you could send e-mail or receive a fax from across the room with your Bluetooth enabled PDA. They ball parked around two years for everything to come together.

Questions and Answers

Now concerning questions that I had. There were two. First, "What about ROM upgrades for existing machines?" and second, "What is Microsoft's intention with regard to support for the H/PC form factor and the new OS?"

The first question was answered quite easily by saying that they were not permitted to discuss different OEM's plan with regard to ROM upgrades and that they would make their own announcements on April 19th.

The second question was danced around a little more as I imagined it might. It was a question that a gentleman sitting next to me had as well, as his company had just made quite an investment in some new H/PC's, MobilePro 780's I believe. One comment made was that all these people that had been working on Rapier would of course need "something else to do", implying that work on the H/PC's might be their next task. Their answer ended up being long and evasive. I did come away with the distinct feeling that those of us who prefer the H/PC form factor, of which I am one, should and must speak up. They couldn't give any specific time frame on this question either so keep your fingers crossed.

Conclusion

As to the discount coupon that many have expressed an interest in, it is from HP and is worth $100.00 toward the purchase of their new Pocket PC. Not bad and you can be sure that I'll use mine ASAP.

The free T-Shirt looks great and of course it has a "pocket" on the front.

All in all I was very favorably impressed with the new Pocket PC and left feeling very confident the Microsoft's commitment to Windows CE is a firm one. It will be around for a long time to come.

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