Last week in San Francisco, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer announced the arrival of Pocket PC 2002. Although some analysts will say it's a minor revision, I beg to differ. In fact, Pocket PC 2002 is extremely significant for IT administrators: It's the first true PDA that's also a fully functional network client.

Pocket PC 2002 also represents a radical change for every major Pocket PC vendor except Compaq. Compaq is the only company that already provides—in its original iPaq—much of what's new with Pocket PC 2002; you might say the company got it right the first time.

All Pocket PC 2002 devices must use processors from the ARM-4 family—Microsoft has dropped support for all other CPU families, including the NEC-MIPS VR family and the Hitachi H-series processors (which Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Casio used in earlier Pocket PC devices). Pocket PC 2002 devices must also use flash-ROM for the OS and built-in applications. Compaq was already using flash-ROM with the iPaq; other vendors have used conventional ROM that might or might not be field-upgradable.

The practical effect of these requirements is that if you use an iPaq, one of the much rarer devices from Sagem, or one of the most recent devices from Symbol, you can upgrade your device to Pocket PC 2002 by re-flashing the ROM. But if you use any other Pocket PC device, you must buy a new device to enjoy the new Pocket PC 2002 features. However, users who buy a Pocket PC 2002 from any vendor will be able to update their devices by re-flashing the ROM.

Although Pocket PC 2002 doesn't boast any single "killer" feature, the complete package is quite impressive. At the launch, Ballmer said, "I think \[Pocket PC 2002 offers\] the richest connectivity support of any pocket-sized device." I'm inclined to agree. The built-in VPN (for use with Windows 2000 or Windows NT servers running PPTP) and Win2K Server Terminal Services clients are of particular interest to corporate users.

The overall package isn't perfect, but it's a significant improvement over the previous version that's paying off in terms of vendor support. Microsoft not only kept all existing Pocket PC vendors but has also added industry giants such as Toshiba, which plans to sell a device containing both CompactFlash (CF) and multimedia card slots. At the launch, Microsoft announced a slew of new vendors, including Acer, NEC, Fujitsu, HTC, Intermec, Audiovox, and several less known names. Of these vendors, Intermec and Audiovox will ship Pocket PC 2002 devices this year, whereas the others won't ship devices until 2002.

Pocket PC 2002 also marks the beginning of a new model for selling these devices through cellular vendors. Audiovox will resell a device for Toshiba, retailing through Verizon Wireless stores. Retailers will sell the device in a package with a data-capable Audiovox cell phone for less than $500 for both devices (with a service contract). HTC will sell its device—which has a built-in Global System for Messaging (GSM)/General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) wireless modem and can function as a cell phone—in Europe through O2, the wireless spin-off of British Telecomm.

Interestingly, Microsoft has also decided to emulate Palm's software development kit (SDK). The Pocket PC 2002 SDK includes a fully functional emulator based on Virtual Machine (VM) technology that's similar to Palm's offering. This release will make developing and performing initial tests without a physical device easier for developers. The Pocket PC 2002 SDK will also make the emulator available to other users (e.g., I expect to use it in my presentations at Fall COMDEX).

As Steve Milroy has mentioned in previous UPDATEs, Pocket PC 2002 is also part of a larger mobile strategy at Microsoft that's beginning to finally mature. Microsoft will offer direct synchronization between mobile devices and a Microsoft Exchange Server system without the need to run ActiveSync on a desktop or notebook PC as an intermediary device. However, the new Server ActiveSync feature is a component of Microsoft's Mobile Information Server 2002, which must run on a server that's physically separate from the Exchange server. Although Microsoft had good reasons for creating this configuration (i.e., security when using the software over a wireless network), most users will probably be slow to adopt this technology.

Other server-side developments include a Mobile Internet Toolkit add-on to Microsoft IIS. Developers can use this toolkit to easily create device-independent Web pages for display on almost any mobile gadget—from a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-enabled phone or BlackBerry pager to a Pocket PC 2002 device. Down the road, Microsoft is working on a compact framework to connect mobile devices into the overall .NET strategy. This framework will support wireless-enabled Pocket PCs and Stinger phones (which have a subset of Pocket PC functionality built-in), both of which should ship next year.

Early adopters of Pocket PC 2002 who've been using beta devices in production environments include Temple University Health System, Bechtel, and Office Depot. Bruce Nelson, CEO of Office Depot, was on stage with Ballmer at the Pocket PC 2002 launch. His company has developed a mobile portal application for office managers that's in the early stages of a nationwide deployment. The application combines Pocket PC 2002 devices (Compaq iPaqs for managers and Symbol's rugged units for warehouse employees) and 802.11 wireless LAN (WLAN) technology.

So what's missing from Pocket PC 2002? So far, Microsoft hasn't announced any kind of central management for Pocket PC 2002 devices. However, Microsoft has said it's working with vendors to add this support to existing management software products. I'll be surprised if we don't see mobile device support in the next release of Microsoft's own Systems Management Server (SMS). For more on Microsoft's mobile strategy, including Pocket PC 2002, visit Microsoft's Mobile Web site.

Mobile Devices in an Emergency
On a completely different subject, I hope that all readers of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE (and your families) are safe after the events of last month. We're all now aware of the value of cell phones and mobile devices for emergency communications. As I write, the Wall Street Journal has just run a thought-provoking article on this subject ("Choosing a Cellphone when Safety Counts as Much as Service" by Jared Sandberg, September 27, 2001, page B1). Among other things, the author points out that text messaging using the Short Message Service (SMS) can sometimes get through when voice connections don't. That's worth remembering, just in case.