Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 5.0

At the company's annual Mobile and Embedded Conference in Las Vegas Tuesday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Mobile 5.0.

The platform, developed under the code name "Magneto," is the successor to Windows Mobile 2003 and offers more stability and reliability, as well as rich access to office applications and multimedia data from Windows-based handhelds, Gates said.

As the functionality of PDAs and cell phones rapidly converge, Microsoft opted to unify its once separate development and OS footprint for PocketPCs and Smartphones in one Windows Mobile code base.

Windows Mobile 5.0 offers enhanced GUI and mobile messaging, an enhanced Office Mobile suite, support for soft-key and Qwerty keyboards for typing and seamless one-handed operation, as well as advanced storage and support for multimedia including downloading, storing, sharing and synchronization of music and photos from PCs or the Internet.

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Microsoft also enabled data persistent memory storage that retains information even when a device's battery is depleted, Microsoft said.

"The mobile space is really hot and we're moving beyond voice and SMS messaging," said Gates during his hour-long keynote, noting that the new Windows platform will enable ISV partners and OEMs to present Microsoft multimedia, location-based services and Office productivity information in new ways to consumers and business users on-the-go.

Enhanced Office Mobile support in Windows Mobile 5.0 enables users to create and edit charts in Excel, edit documents with Word Mobile (while maintaining the same file format as Word) and the ability to view and rehearse PowerPoint presentations from their mobile device. New support for Pocket MSN including Hotmail in Smartphone will allow cell phone users to connect up to MSN, Gates said.

Additionally, support for the Windows Media Player 10 and support for hard drives and USB 2.0 will allow users to download, synchronize and store large volumes of data including songs and playlists from a PC or from Internet-based service or mobile operators' online music stores.

That, combined with advanced network support and storage, will drive a new era of development for mobile iworkers and consumers, Gates said. For example, the Pocket PC platform offers support for higher bandwidth 3G networks and enhanced Outlook Mobile applications while the Smartphone will offer new support for the WiFi networks and Pocket MSN.

"The boundary between the desktop and mobile goes away. Wherever you are, whether using a portable computer or a mobile phone, you can be in touch. It's a very radical shift that's taking place, "Gates said.

One Microsoft Gold Certified Partner said developers and service partners will see new opportunities as customers increasingly demand e-mail access from their mobile devices as a commodity service. Windows Mobile 5.0 will be FIPS 140-2-certified to comply with stringent government security requirements, in addition to its current security capabilities such as end-to-end encryption over a virtual private network as well as Bluetooth authorization.

"The industry will get an enormous leap in sheer productivity itself from the mobile platform -- faster access to email, desktop and server information, a new Office Mobile Suite that integrates with the desktop and offers a richer viewing experience of Office e-mail attachments, new deployment capabilities and security technologies, which facilitate the management of these Windows Mobile-based devices," said Tim Huckaby, CEO of Interknowlogy, Carlsbad, Calif.

Samsung's recently introduced i300 Smartphone and T-Mobile's MDA IV, for example, are the first mobile devices to employ Windows Mobile 5.0, Gates said. The T-Mobile phone, due later this year, is the first to provide 3G network support along with a full Qwerty keyboard and integrated camera.

Dell and HP Tuesday unveiled plans for enhanced Pocket PC devices that will offer support for data persistent memory storage. Dell will release in the third quarter an enhanced Axim 50 handheld that offers Microsoft Office Mobile, Direct3D Mobile and persistent storage support.

Sources said the planned release of an Exchange 2003 service pack later this year will enable Microsoft and its hardware partners to offer Blackberry-like e-mail push capabilities with no additional price beyond the monthly subscription.

Microsoft executives would not comment on the Exchange 2003 update except to say that it will try to capitalize on the market pioneered by RIM and others that provide dedicated e-mail solutions over wireless networks.

"There are good opportunities to serve that customer base," said Scott Horn, senior director of the mobile and embedded devices division. "We are seeing our corporate customers saying they don't want to pay a special fee to get email on the road."

Microsoft also said it designed Mobile 5.0 to be a highly customizable yet standard code base to enable easier development and to enable partners to develop plug-ins using a new set of mobile APIs. Additionally, the integration of ActiveSync enhancements and location-based technologies in the .NET Compact Framework 2.0 tool set in Visual Studio 2005 due this summer, will advance Windows Mobile development, Microsoft claims.

Windows Mobile 5.0 will better position Microsoft against its competitors in the mobile OS space, including Symbian and Palm, and against RIM's BlackBerry and Apple's iPod.

One Microsoft solution provider that develops mobile e-mail solutions using Good Technology's GoodLink platform said that competitors in the mobile OS space, dedicated service providers such as Good and RIM/Apple are far from being put out of business. Microsoft has a long road before it captures dominant mind share in this space, he said.

"I'm not a big fan of PocketPC. It's proven to be unstable and slow," said Alex Zaltman, managing partner at Exigent, Morristown, N.J. "Microsoft needs to get to the level where Mobile 5.0 is as stable as others and form factor based on it are as good as the [Palm] Treo, then they have a shot. I don't know any companies deploying PocketPC and text based e-mail systems in the enterprise. It doesn't give you push e-mail."

ISVs such as Good Technology announced Tuesday enhanced platforms that support Windows Mobile 5.0. Good Technology launched GoodAccess, a new service that will provide its subscribers with secure access to Exchange 2003 but also to corporate data such as SAP and Siebel applications over-the-air, Good executives said.