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Study guide: Windows Mobile evolution

This guide to Windows Mobile looks at how Windows Mobile has evolved, the wide range of mobile apps Windows Mobile supports and how Windows Mobile can leverage ready-to-roll apps for maximum productivity.

Windows Mobile: a phrase that embodies on-the-go business initiatives. By marrying today's dominant office computing environment with increasingly compact-but-powerful handheld devices, Windows Mobile makes it possible for millions of workers to conduct business on their feet and from the road. According to market research firm iSuppli, Windows Mobile already powers more than 27 million smartphones, expected to double and more by 2013.

In this guide, we recap Windows Mobile's evolution and look at the wide array of Windows Mobile-powered devices available to untether today's workforces. We'll explore where and why Windows Mobile devices are used to support a wide range of mobile apps, from vertical business automation to knowledge worker access. Finally, we'll examine the appeal of ready-to-roll apps like Office, Outlook, and Communicator Mobile that integrate seamlessly with enterprise and in-the-cloud Windows services.


>>Read part 2: Mobilizing business operations with Windows Mobile
>>Read part 3: Successful mobility with Windows Mobile


Windows Mobile evolution

Windows Mobile began its journey as a compact edition of Windows for small devices in 1996, before Symbian or BlackBerry were even conceived. Originally Pegasus, Windows CE (WinCE) was created as an industry-standard operating system for early handhelds from Casio, HP/Compaq, LG, NEC, and Philips. Right from the start, WinCE was designed to satisfy requirements like portability, internationalization, and data synchronization that are still essential today.

In those days, handhelds were just personal information managers (PIMs). WinCE nudged this nascent market beyond that niche by running other kinds of applications -- in effect, putting a Handheld PC (H/PC) in your pocket. For example, WinCE 1.0 not only synchronized PIM data with Microsoft Outlook, it supported third-party apps developed using a WinCE platform toolkit.

By 1997, H/PCs had taken root and WinCE continued to mature. Over the next three years, Microsoft released updates that extended WinCE 2.x to other kinds of devices. 

Many new products, from consumer electronics to automotive computers, incorporated WinCE as compact-but-scalable embedded operating system. "Smart" features could now be implemented by easily updated software, running on inexpensive microprocessors like MIPS, StrongArm and SH3.

During the WinCE 2.x era, H/PCs -- aka Palm-sized PCs -- capitalized on hardware advances such as color displays and network adapters. By 1998, an H/PC running Windows CE 2.11 (marketed as Handheld PC Pro) could browse the Internet with Explorer and open Microsoft Word, Excel and Access files using included "Pocket" versions of familiar Office apps.

In 2000, WinCE 3.x separated the core operating system that powered diverse devices from the graphical user interface and apps that made mobile handhelds usable. At this point, Microsoft Pocket PC 2000 (today's familiar touch-screen form factor) split from Microsoft Handheld PC 2000 (the old clamshell form factor). As Pocket PC became increasingly popular, it was joined by a new little brother: Smartphone 2002.

By 2003, wireless was hot -- from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to GSM and CDMA. WinCE 4.x .NET let app developers tap into this mobile connectivity, leading to a new generation of Pocket PCs and smartphones sporting a graphical interface christened Windows Mobile 2003. This "mobile" moniker resonated with users, which is why WinCE 5.x and WinCE 6.x-based Pocket PCs and smartphones ran Windows Mobile 5.0 and Windows Mobile 6.0, respectively.

Along the way, Pocket PCs (which focused on apps) and smartphones (which focused on telephony) began to merge. For example, Pocket PCs could create and edit Office documents, while smartphones could only view email attachments. But phones "got smarter" and mobile broadband voice and data grew ubiquitous. By Windows Mobile 6.0, this differentiation was reduced to Pro (for touch-screen smartphones) or Standard (for all other smartphones).

Today, Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones (below, right) can run hundreds of Microsoft and third-party apps -- including those hosted online at WindowsLive or downloaded from Windows Marketplace. Because so many users now depend on smartphones to meet business and personal needs, Windows Mobile 6.5 enables collaboration via social networks like Facebook and MySpace, messaging with services like Hotmail and Messenger, and email via Exchange, WindowsLive, Gmail, Yahoo! and others. A redesigned graphical interface with touch-screen gesture support (below, left) delivers faster access to favorite apps, further boosting productivity.

Top 10 Features in Windows Mobile 6.5. Click to view the full-size chart.

Source: Microsoft

>>Continue to part 2: Mobilizing business operations with Windows Mobile

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