Windows Mobile 6 to be unveiled Monday

Smart phones this spring will offer more PC-like features

Microsoft Corp. will unveil Windows Mobile 6, the newest version of the mobile phone operating system code-named "Crossbow," on Monday at the 3GSM World Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Devices using the new software platform are expected to ship in April or May, said John Starkweather, group product manager of the Microsoft Mobile and Embedded Devices Division, in a recent interview. He described a range of improvements over the last release, called Windows Mobile 5.1, including the ability to view e-mails in their original HTML format.

In general, text and images on the new platform will be displayed on a small screen much as they would be on a PC, he said. For example, a user will be able to view, navigate and edit documents in the original formatting of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, without loss of tables, images or text, as is common today.

In a demonstration, Starkweather showed several examples of how a Windows Mobile 6 device would display an e-mail with a table and a picture embedded, although at a much smaller size than on a PC. By comparison, not all those capabilities would be possible on the popular Nokia E Series 60 device or the BlackBerry 8700, Starkweather said.

Windows Mobile 6 will also include direct push technology to provide up-to-date e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization of Outlook calendars and contacts through Microsoft Exchange Server, he said. That direct push advantage has been one capability that many users of BlackBerry devices from Research In Motion Ltd. have praised for years.

Security improvements in the new operating system include the ability to encrypt storage cards in devices, Starkweather said.

Users and analysts at the Gartner Mobile and Wireless Summit in Grapevine, Texas, this week said they were eager to try out the new capabilities, especially because Windows Mobile has become such a favored platform.

"I really haven't heard much about what Mobile 6 offers, but I'm interested," said Dave Cogswell, director of technical services for Data-Tronics Corp. in Fort Smith, Ark., which already has deployed several thousand Windows Mobile 5.0 devices.

Cogswell said he hopes to see Windows Mobile 6 improve on technical problems and inconsistencies in setting up services to various wireless carriers that he has experienced with Windows Mobile 5.0, since his company must use several different carriers nationwide.

"It's a configuration issue with IP connectivity, with the Windows Mobile driver," he said.

However, moving to the next version of Windows Mobile will be natural as newer devices emerge, Cogswell said. New phones offered by carriers emerge every six months, he noted.

Jim Parker, lead architect for IT services at PepsiCo, said a rollout of Windows Mobile 5.0 on Intermec rugged devices for 18,000 Frito-Lay delivery drivers is under way. He also said he's eager to hear more about Windows Mobile 6 improvements.

Despite all its promise, Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., called Windows Mobile 6 "an interim release" prior to the next major one due in 2008 and code-named Photon. "This is not a major release, and it's not like moving from Windows XP to Vista," Dulaney said in a speech at the summit.

Dulaney added that the newest version does not address all the problems of the prior version and questioned why Microsoft developers cannot seem to attain excellence in their software.

"The difficult challenges [of previous Windows Mobile versions] are not fixed in 6," Dulaney said. Microsoft "hovers around the line ... of being good enough," he said. "I would challenge them to be excellent."

In written comments, Dulaney noted that Microsoft, in its latest release, "still has not addressed its confusing communications subsystem." He added, "Many will think that the changes in this release of Windows Mobile are cosmetic. As we have said about prior releases, we have been underwhelmed by the degree of improvements." In an interview, he explained that the communications problems have resulted in frustrations for companies in making connections to carriers.

The new version has changes that are good, including storage card encryption as well as integration with Microsoft's Office Communications Server, Dulaney said. However, the new version will not synchronize with Windows CE, an operating system for millions of small devices, which will occur with the release of Photon.

Still, Dulaney mirrored comments by users that Windows Mobile is very strong in the market, thanks to decades of success with Windows products in general and the large number of Windows developers worldwide.

"Given Microsoft's advantages in its development tools and its strong OEM partners across multiple device categories, Microsoft will remain an extremely strong player in the handheld market," he said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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