Microsoft Pushes to Make Mobile OS More Capable

Users look for improvements, but analyst calls upgrade 'interim release'

Microsoft Corp. today plans to announce the latest version of its Windows Mobile operating system, with new features such as native support for its push e-mail technology and more PC-like display capabilities.

Devices based on the Windows Mobile 6 software are expected to become available in April or May, said John Starkweather, group product manager for Microsoft’s mobile and embedded devices division.

But Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney last week called Windows Mobile 6 “an interim release” in advance of a larger upgrade, code-named Photon, that is due next year. “This is not a major release,” he said during a presentation at Gartner’s Mobile & Wireless Summit 2007 in Grapevine, Texas.

Data-Tronics Corp. in Fort Smith, Ark., has deployed several thousand devices running Windows Mobile 5.0. Dave Cogswell, director of technical services at the IT unit of Arkansas Best Corp., said at the conference that he hopes the new operating system will ease technical problems and inconsistencies his staff has encountered in setting up communications services with different wireless carriers.

“It’s a configuration issue with IP connectivity [involving] the Windows Mobile driver,” Cogswell said.

Jim Parker, lead architect for IT services at PepsiCo Inc. in Purchase, N.Y., said he’s eager to hear more about the promised improvements coming in Windows Mobile 6. PepsiCo is rolling out Windows Mobile 5.0 on ruggedized devices from Intermec Technologies Corp. for use by about 18,000 Frito-Lay delivery drivers.

Call for Improvement

Dulaney, however, said Windows Mobile 6 doesn’t address all the problems in the previous version, such as the carrier connection issues that Cogswell cited.

“The difficult challenges are not fixed in 6,” Dulaney said. With Windows Mobile, he added, Microsoft “hovers around the line of being good enough. I would challenge them to be excellent.”

According to Dulaney, Windows Mobile 6 includes some welcome new features, such as integration with Microsoft’s Office Communications Server software and support for encrypting data on storage cards within devices. But, he said, the new software can’t synchronize data with Windows CE, Microsoft’s operating system for embedded devices.

Microsoft is introducing Windows Mobile 6, which is code-named Crossbow, at the 3GSM World Conference in Barcelona, Spain, this week. Starkweather said users with devices based on the new version will be able to view e-mails in their original HTML formats.

In addition, text and images typically will be displayed on the small screen of a device running Windows Mobile 6 much as they would be on a conventional PC, according to Starkweather. For example, he said that users will be able to view, navigate and edit Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents without losing any tables, images or text. Such losses are a common occurrence now, he added.

Microsoft already offered its Direct Push e-mail technology to Windows Mobile 5.0 users via an add-on Messaging and Security Feature Pack. The push capabilities will be built directly into the new version of the mobile operating system, Starkweather said, enabling users to receive up-to-date e-mail deliveries and automatically synchronize Outlook calendar and contact listings through Microsoft’s Exchange Server software.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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