If you own a Pocket PC 2002 device or a notebook PC running Windows XP, you can enable a feature that makes text on your device easier to read—and you don't need to perform a hardware or software update. (If you don't own a Pocket PC 2002 device yet, you might want to save this issue for future reference.)

The feature I'm talking about is ClearType, Microsoft's proprietary anti-aliasing font technology. (ClearType is a core technology in Microsoft's Tablet PC project.) Until now, ClearType has been available only for the Microsoft Reader eBook viewer and on notebook PCs running XP Professional. Now you can enable it for systemwide use on Pocket PC 2002 devices, as well.

Pixels on an LCD are made up of smaller subpixels. By modifying the color of the pixels that make up a character's edges, ClearType can turn individual subpixels on or off. As a result, fonts look smoother, with fewer jagged edges, as if you're viewing them on a display with much higher resolution than that available on the relatively small Pocket PC LCD. The folks in Microsoft's eBook team developed ClearType (which is why it showed up first in Microsoft Reader) because they believed that improving text legibility on small-device screens is essential if eBooks will ever appeal to a broad audience.

Incidentally, the thinking behind this technology is fascinating. If you're interested, you can download Microsoft Engineer Bill Hill's "The Magic of Reading," which is available—of course—in Microsoft Reader .lit format.

Why Microsoft waited so long to make ClearType available is unclear. At the Fall 1998 Comdex trade show, the company publicly showed the technology on handheld PCs running Windows CE 2.0. ClearType should have been available by now on both the Handheld PC 2000 and the original Pocket PC devices.

Microsoft's decision to bury this feature is difficult to understand. To enable ClearType, you use an obscure check box in one of the Settings dialog boxes (see the Mobile & Wireless Tip in the RESOURCES section below); it's disabled by default. ClearType wasn't included in the beta Pocket PC 2002 devices the company showed to the press earlier this year, and I haven't seen anything on the subject in press releases or advertising.

ClearType gives Pocket PC 2002 devices a considerable text-display competitive advantage over any competing PDA technology—and most PDA applications are text based! Whether you're viewing your calendar, looking up an address, or using the Web browser, text is easier to read with ClearType enabled. Why Microsoft isn't promoting this feature is beyond me.

ClearType isn't perfect; how well the technology works depends on how a particular manufacturer constructs its LCDs and on which font you select. I've used the feature on HP Jornada 545 and Toshiba Genio Pocket PCs and a Compaq Armada notebook PC; it performs well on all three devices. Give it a try, and let me know how it works for you.

We won't publish the Pocket PC edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE on December 27 because of the holidays, so I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you the very best for the holidays! See you in January.