At the Microsoft Mobile & Embedded DevCon 2005 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, this week, Microsoft unveiled the next version of its OS for mobile devices. Dubbed Windows Mobile 5.0, the new system finally unifies the previously separate software for both smart phones and PDAs into one code base that will be simpler for developers to use.
  
"In the past 5 years, there's been a profound shift in the kind of data and services people access on their mobile devices, from multimedia to business applications," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said at the show's keynote address. "Windows Mobile 5.0 enables our industry partners to develop exciting new hardware designs and solutions that will revolutionize how customers use mobile devices."
  
Windows Mobile 5.0--code-named Magneto--piles on the features but bears a strong resemblance to previous Windows Mobile versions. It now natively supports those miniature thumb-driven keyboards that were first popularized by the Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry, adds a long-awaited Microsoft PowerPoint presentation viewer, and includes updated versions of Microsoft's Pocket Office applications, which had been largely moribund for years.
  
Windows Mobile 5.0 will also support tiny mobile hard disks, leading to the development of far more powerful smart phones and PDAs with which users can interact with digital music, photos, and videos. It also features that annoying cell phone feature called "push-to-talk," which lets expensive, modern mobile phones pretend they're 1970s-style police walkie-talkies.
  
With the release of Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft is finally killing off three overlapping brands: Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone Edition, and Windows Mobile-based Smartphones. Now, all three types of devices will be supported by one code base.
  
Microsoft will also support Windows Mobile 5.0 in ways that it hasn't since the first iteration of the Pocket PC. The company will spend about $100 million marketing the new release. "You'll see a bigger marketing effort from us than you've ever seen in the past for Windows Mobile," Susan DelBene, corporate vice president of marketing for the Mobile and Embedded Devices division at Microsoft, told "Business Week."
  
Devices based on Windows Mobile 5.0 are already appearing from mobile carriers in Europe. In the United States, companies such as Dell and HP will ship Windows Mobile 5.0-based devices in third quarter 2005. Also, some companies will offer software updates to Windows Mobile 5.0. Dell, for example, will ship (for a small fee) a Windows Mobile 5.0 software upgrade for its Dell Axim X50 family of handheld devices in third quarter 2005.