Learn from Palm’s example

I have a confession to make: I've been covering Windows CE since its inception and have used numerous Pocket PC devices, but when I travel I use a Palm VIIx. One reason I carry a Palm device is that I can use only the Palm for three specific vertical applications—one designed for pharmacists and two for private pilots. (Email me for details if you're interested in hearing about these applications.) Yesterday, I also realized that Palm's Web-clipping interface has one simple feature that makes the interface much easier to use than Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) on a Pocket PC—a history menu.

For those readers who've never used a wireless-enabled Palm device, Web clipping is basically a specialized Web browser optimized for the small PDA display. The device stores the static portions of a Web page, so only dynamic content requires downloading. Microsoft and others have criticized the Web-clipping approach because it doesn't let you browse the Web directly. However, if you're using a low-bandwidth device, Web clipping permits a much better Web experience.

Palm's browser for Web clipping is called Clipper. Clipper doesn't provide much of a UI, but Clipper's useful history menu stores eight or nine of the most recently received pages for each Web-clipping application. Clipper stores these pages as bitmaps, so they're available instantly and don't require an active Internet connection.

In contrast, Pocket PC's version of IE doesn't display a history menu by default. You can access a history menu by starting IE and selecting View, History. However, this menu simply lists the URLs of the pages you've most recently visited. When you select a URL from this list, IE retrieves the particular page. IE's history menu only works if you have a live Internet connection, and the menu can be annoyingly slow.

The application I was using yesterday was MapQuest's Mobile MapQuest, which provides wireless driving directions. It's available for both Pocket PC and Palm devices. On a Palm device, Clipper automatically provides the history feature. I could look up directions, then use the device for some other function, and return to the directions instantly when necessary, without needing a live Internet connection. As far as I know, Pocket PC doesn't offer such functionality.

If you know how to instantly open a cached Web page on a Pocket PC, please let me know and I'll share the information in a future UPDATE. (Perhaps Pocket PC includes a non-obvious setting from which to control the way IE caches pages, or maybe a third-party application can do the trick.)

Do you have a favorite Pocket PC feature that Microsoft could improve? If so, send me an email message and I'll start a list. Who knows, we just might get Microsoft's attention for future versions.