WinTel to resurface on the hand

Don't look now, but that almost forgotten word, "WinTel," will rise again next month at Comdex in Las Vegas on the back of new products on display at the tech industry showcase.

It won't be WinTel on the desktop or notebook that captures the spotlight; it'll be WinTel on the handheld.

Vendors will preview high-performance handhelds based on the traditional Windows/Intel combination, but with the capability to run full-blown desktop applications.

The list includes Intel's X-scale processor running at above 450Mhz and Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming Windows CE 4.0 operating system that will allow Pocket PC devices from the likes of Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Compaq Computer Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) to offer built-in speech recognition, high-level security, and improved wireless functionality along with low power consumption.

And additional twist is the perceived positioning of Windows CE's competitor, Palm OS.

Most high-tech industry executives say that the Palm OS and its licensees have 12 months to 18 months to incorporate serious enterprise-level capabilities such as multi-threading, multi-tasking, and security beyond simple SSL (Secure Socket Layer), or the game is over.

"Palm is the Macintosh of the handheld world," said Raphael Auphan, vice president of strategy and market development for Viafone, a wireless infrastructure provider.

Despite Palm OS' claimed shortcomings, some industry experts believe devices like Handspring's Treo is a compelling reason to stick with Palm OS. "It doesn't matter if it doesn't have much processing power. It is a killer device," said Sal Visca, CTO at InfoWave, a wireless infrastructure provider. In addition, Palm is in the midst of upgrading its OS to run on the same core Arm processor as the Pocket PC devices.

There is also the ease-of-use factor. "We run into people intimidated by the Pocket PC. It doesn't have ease of use," said Gary Briggs, a mobility strategist for EDS in Plano, Texas.

Nevertheless, some of the largest companies have already made up their mind. UPS selected Windows CE over the Palm platform for 200,000 devices.

Windows CE integrated more easily with its current networks and its 5,000 Windows-based development staff, according to David Salzman, program manager at UPS Information Services in Mahwah, N.J.

It may be premature to make predictions, but it is significant to note that not only large corporations appear to be favoring the Windows CE platform, but high-tech companies that sell into that market as well.

For example, Siebel Systems will release applications that enable tracking of consumer goods and pharmaceuticals inventories on handhelds, but the offerings will only be supported on Microsoft's Pocket PC.

"Pocket PC has multithreading and large amounts of RAM and significant processing power, and so for applications like consumer goods sales and pharmaceutical sales management, we think it's the right platform," Stone said.

Russ McMeekin, CEO at ViaPhone and a former divisional president at Honeywell, believes most large companies will stick with WinTel. "Microsoft and Intel have taken us this far for 10 years. So for scalability and longevity it is these brands that prevail. If I was making a $50 million decision at Honeywell, I would go with WinTel," he said.

Meanwhile, attendees at Comdex will get their first look at Version 4.0 of Windows CE and the X-scale processor.

Many are saying the combination may become an unstoppable dynamic duo. Add to the mix multi-gigabyte hard drives from both IBM and Toshiba in a handheld-friendly Compact II flash form factor, and users could load the entire Microsoft Office applications onto a handheld.

For wireless, Version 4.0 will support wireless wakeup of the handheld, when, for instance, an e-mail arrives. This always-on functionality is now only available on the Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry devices.

The combination of the new OS and the increased processing capability of the StrongArm 2, now called X-scale, will also allow for a higher level of security that can use longer ciphers, according to Sal Visca, CTO at InfoWave.

Set to arrive next year, X-Scale chips will mark the beginning of a new ARM-based processor road map for Intel that could exceed clock speeds of 1GHz, according to Intel representative Mark Miller.

Intel will not reveal the debut speed of the first X-Scale chips, but recent core demonstrations of the chip reveled it has the ability to run at 1GHz while consuming less than one ten-thousandth of a watt of power.

"Obviously X-Scale won't scale to 1GHz coming out of the chute, but you can see how the convergence of voice and data [in PDAs] and color screens are requiring a whole lot more processing power," Miller said

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