In mid-2003, Microsoft finally released an update to its software for Pocket PCs, Pocket PC phones, and smart phones. Dubbed Windows Mobile 2003, the new software is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, with small improvements to wireless networking, the built-in personal information manager (PIM) applications, and system performance among the most important changes. Here's what you need to know about Windows Mobile 2003.

New and Improved Features
Because so many Pocket PC users want to use their devices to connect to the Internet, Windows Mobile 2003 includes support for Zero Configuration Wi-Fi. Integrated Bluetooth support means Pocket PC phone and other Windows Mobile 2003­based smart phone users don't need to turn to device makers for wireless synchronization and file-transfer capability; the Bluetooth-enabled phone portion of the device provides wireless Internet access to the mobile-computing portion of the device. Also, Microsoft has updated Windows Mobile 2003's Connection Manager software to support multiple account types, including VPN, 802.1x, IP Security (IPSec) Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) VPN, and 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

Microsoft has enhanced Pocket Inbox to support address autosuggest, spelling autocorrect, and email signatures. Pocket Contacts has a new quick-find feature that navigates through your list of contacts as you type. And Pocket Calendar now supports multiday views and better color-coding. Windows Mobile 2003 also includes a new image-viewer application, Windows Media Player (WMP) 9, a new game, and better Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) performance.

How to Get It
Windows Mobile 2003 is available with new Pocket PCs and smart phones. And certain device makers are making the software available for a small fee to users of older Pocket PCs running the Pocket PC 2002 software. Most modern HP iPAQs (iPAQ 3800 and higher), for example, are upgradable for about $30; conversely, most Toshiba devices aren't. Check with your device manufacturer to be sure.

Recommendations
If you're in the market for a new Windows-based mobile device, make sure it runs Windows Mobile 2003. For users of Windows mobile devices with older software, such as Pocket PC 2002, however, the upgrade doesn't make enough difference to make the update worth the price. However, going forward, many new Microsoft software releases will require Windows Mobile 2003. If you're worried that your devices will become obsolete, a better time has never existed to turn to up-to-date Windows-based devices.