Microsoft unveils mobile strategy

Hoping to revitalize the flagging sub-notebook market, Microsoft Corp. on Thursday introduced the Handheld PC 2000 (HPC) as part of its revamped mobile computing strategy.

Also at the DemoMobile 2000 event in Pasadena, Calif., Hewlett-Packard, MainStreet Networks and NEC announced plans to ship handheld PCs based on Windows CE 3.0, which hit the market earlier this year in the Pocket PC.

Handheld PC 2000 users will be able to take advantage of an integrated client for Windows 2000 Terminal Services, in addition to Windows CE 3.0 features such as the Windows Media Player, an Internet Explorer 4.0-compatible browser, and “Pocket” versions of Office applications.

Microsoft will aim handheld PCs – which fall between the laptop and the PDA (personal digital assistant) on the computing food chain – primarily at vertical markets, said product manager Rebecca Thompson.

Sub-notebooks did not prove to be popular with consumers when they debuted about two years ago when the price of laptops was dropping and PDAs, particularly the non-Windows PalmPilot, were taking off.

However, one analyst said the market for sub-notebooks still exists – not necessarily for everyday use, but as devices that compliment desktop PCs and notebooks. Users who only need a device for e-mail and a contact database, instead of an 8-pound laptop, may find sub-notebooks appealing, said Al Gillen, research manager for system software at International Data Corp., in Iselin, N.J.

“Every small device has made some trade off of functionality for portability,” Gillen said. “That’s attractive, but only if the price point is right.”

Noting that typical users do not actually take advantage of all the power inherent in the average PC, Gillen said the same principle applies on the hardware side, as processors get faster, screens get bigger, and memory more abundant, even in notebooks.

“The average user has been surpassed by the average desktop or notebook,” he said.

Handheld PCs are but one facet of Microsoft’s mobile strategy, which in turn is a key piece of its .NET initiative, a long-range vision that makes Windows software available over the Internet as a service and promotes computing on a wide range of devices.

“The number of devices is proliferating, and our view is that rich data services are what people want from these devices,” said Pat Fox, marketing director for the Mobility Group at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. “Increasingly we expect that users will become more and more reliant on the mobile device, and it will be come important to give users control of their communications.”

Along with Pocket PCs and Handheld PCs, Microsoft is targeting cell phones with Windows CE.

A so-called “smart phone,” code-named Stinger – which combines the functionalities of an Internet-connected PDA with a cell phone on an optimized version of Windows CE – is due to enter trial testing in early 2001 and should be available in the second half of next year, Thompson said. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will manufacture them, and Microsoft is lining up other makers, she said.