Microsoft revives handheld PC

Microsoft is launching the Handheld PC 2000 at the Demo Mobile show in the US. A category brand like Pocket PC, Handheld PC 2000 includes both the updated operating system and the subnotebook devices. Sales of the so-called HPC have been sluggish and OS updates nonexistent.

But a handful of vendors are readying new devices. The initial units are from Hewlett-Packard; MainStreet Networks, which bought the Vadem Clio line; and NEC Computers.

A High-End Gadget

HPC 2000 adds an integrated thin client for access to applications running on a Windows 2000 server, an updated Internet Explorer, and the Windows Media Player.

Like Pocket PCs, HPC 2000 includes Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket PowerPoint, and Pocket Access, says Doug Dedo, group product manager of Microsoft's mobile devices division. But you can also access full Windows applications through Windows 2000 terminal servers, he adds.

Hewlett-Packard is already shipping new HPC 2000 devices. The HP Jornada 720, priced at $Us999, has a 206-MHz Intel Strongarm processor and a built-in Smart Card Reader for security. Previous Jornada HPCs came in both the half- and full-screen size; HP is dropping the full-screen devices with this model. But NEC and MainStreet Networks will both offer full notebook-size HPC 2000s, according to Microsoft.

"They're not intended to be laptop replacements," Dedo says. Instead, customers use HPCs for paper-based processes the laptop can't replace, he says. For example, an HPC can offer instant on and off, immediate access to data, and long battery life.

The HPC enhancements are designed for industry-specific use in fields such as health care, education, and finance, according to Microsoft. Consumers have traditionally shirked HPCs in favor of lightweight notebook PCs, and the HPC 2000's high price tag and limited applications may remain a challenge. But the price isn't as important in custom and corporate applications, Dedo says.

Mobile Connectivity

Like notebooks, HPCs offer a variety of connectivity options through PC Cards.

"HPC 2000 supports low-level Ethernet cards, (and) wireless LANS from Cisco, Proxim, Symbol Technologies, and Lucent," Dedo says. Some drivers like Proxim's are preinstalled, and others are available online.

HPCs can get wireless access with CDPD cards or by connecting the device to a mobile phone.

Early next year, you'll be able to get wireless cards for Metricom Ricochet service and Bluetooth, Dedo says.

Of course, you can use all those cards and more with a notebook PC and not spend much more money.

Upgrades may be available for current HPC owners. Microsoft suggests you check with the appropriate hardware vendor, which may offer a ROM upgrade or device swap.

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