Dell to patch Pocket PC multimedia glitch

Dell plans to have a software patch available Wednesday for a glitch in its version of Pocket PC 2003 software that can cause a "significant performance degradation" in the operation of multimedia applications on two Axim handheld computer models that were sold with the operating system in June and early July.

Dell spokeswoman Anne Camden said that the glitch -- which Dell first became aware of on July 11 -- does not effect the operation of "everyday productivity applications such as Word." But when users attempt to run multimedia files, audio "can be out of sync with video, and the video drops frames," she said.

Camden emphasized that the software problem is not inherent in Microsoft's Pocket PC 2003 operating system but rather in Dell's configuration of the OS with its Axim hardware. She declined to explain in detail how Dell's version of the Pocket PC 2003 OS causes a performance slowdown.

The low-end Axim has retail price of US$199 for a model with 32MB of ROM and a 300-MHz processor, while the next model up sells for $293 with 48MB of ROM and a 400-MHz processor. Dell sold Axims with the flawed operating system from June through July 16, when it stopped taking orders. Only customers who bought hardware during that period will need the patch, Camden said. She declined to specify the number of customers affected.

The patch is a large, 28MB file, and Camden said Dell will provide it on a CD to users within two to three weeks if they don't want to download it.

Unlike other Pocket PC hardware vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell did not introduce new hardware this June when Microsoft introduced the new version of the operating system (see story). Instead, Dell offered customers with the old hardware an opportunity to buy the new OS for $29.

Thanks to what Camden called "serendipity," Dell was unable to process those orders because of an automated accounting software problem in its online ordering system. Dell plans to fix that Pocket PC 2003 software upgrade and offer it for sale within the next two or three weeks, Camden said.

Analysts expressed doubt that Dell's handheld sales will be hurt as a result of the software snafu. According to Alex Slawsby, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., "At most, the problems could have a short-term impact on sales."

Slawsby characterized the buyers of handheld computers as "fickle" -- chasing either hot new features or low prices. That's reflected in Dell's sales of the Axim device in the first quarter of this year, which was essentially flat from the previous quarter, Slawsby said. Dell had 6.7 percent of the worldwide handheld market of 2.7 million units in the first quarter, he said.

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