Microsoft pulls Bluetooth support from Windows XP

The desktop division of Microsoft Corp. has temporarily pulled support for Bluetooth short-range wireless devices from the next version of its Windows operating system. The company’s Pocket PC division continues to embrace the technology, although it expects a slow rollout.

Meanwhile, Motorola Computer Group, a business unit of Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill., has decided to support embedded Bluetooth devices in three operating systems. In an announcement last month, the company said it would provide support of Bluetooth devices used in copiers, printers and MRI machines in the Windows 2000, Linux and VxWorks operating systems.

Analysts said Microsoft’s decision reflects the realities of Bluetooth, which was hyped last year as the “next big thing” but only began to ship in quantity this year. Bluetooth uses low-power wireless technology operating in the 2.4 GHz band to connect PDAs such as Palm devices and Pocket PCs to cellular phones and as a replacement for printer cables in desktop computers. LM Ericsson Telephone Co. in Stockholm has started shipping cell phones with embedded Bluetooth chips to replace headset cords.

Microsoft last month dropped support for Bluetooth from its Windows XP operating system, which is due for release later this year. This mean Microsoft’s software won’t include built-in drivers to support Bluetooth devices.

A company spokesman said Microsoft decided to drop Bluetooth support from XP due to the lack “of production-quality hardware to test against.

“There is just not sufficient quantities of production quality hardware yet,” the spokesman said. He added that this doesn’t mean that Microsoft, one of the leaders of the industry consortium developing Bluetooth, has given up on the technology.

He said the company will consider adding support for Bluetooth as production of the devices ramps up. Third-party software developers will also produce drivers to tie Bluetooth devices into Windows XP, the spokesman added.

The Microsoft Pocket PC division believes Bluetooth can provide real utility for mobile users as a cable replacement, but also says Bluetooth is not quite ready for prime time. “Bluetooth is real, but I don’t think [the rollout] will be smooth sailing,” said Douglas Dedo, group product manager in the Microsoft mobile devices division. He said he doesn’t expect to see widespread proliferation of Bluetooth devices until next year.

Skip Bryan, global area manager for technology licensing at Ericsson’s U.S. subsidiary in Richardson, Tex., said the availability of third-party drivers should mitigate any lack of support in Windows XP.

Bryan confidently predicted sales of Bluetooth devices on a wide scale this year and next. “There should be 10 million to 15 million devices shipped this year. And next year that could approach 100 million,” with Ericsson shipping four cell phone models with embedded Bluetooth chips this year that will permit wireless headset operation.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at FarPoint Group in Ashland, Mass., said Microsoft’s decision not to support Bluetooth in XP reflects the realities of the marketplace. “There’s lack of standardization and products – I don’t see widespread Bluetooth use for another two years.”