Microsoft adds to PocketPC

Microsoft wants to take handheld devices beyond their current role as personal information managers

Software giant Microsoft said on Tuesday that it plans to ship new business productivity applications, including Word and Excel, with its forthcoming PocketPC personal digital assistant (PDA) platform. The company will also offer an improved version of its Pocket Outlook for email and a Pocket version of its Money personal finance software.

These applications have been available for Microsoft's Handheld PC platform -- with larger screens and keyboards than typical handhelds -- but not for the company's Palm-size PC units, the predecessor to PocketPC and chief rival to Palm's handheld devices.

The move, Microsoft hopes, will give its PocketPC capabilities beyond that of a PIM. At the same time, it is looking to differentiate itself from market leader Palm through software.

By adding basic office software such as Word and Excel, Microsoft is targeting business users, who can use the devices to stay up-to-date with the office.

For consumers, Microsoft is bundling its eBook reader and audio player, which can play both MP3 and Windows Media player files.

Customers have told Microsoft that they want more than basic personal information management features, said Phil Holden, a group product manager for Windows CE. "It's really (providing) the ability to process email (and attachments) while they are on the road."

With road warriors in mind, Word and Excel file formats will be natively supported by the forthcoming devices. This means that a file created on a desktop PC can be viewed, edited and saved by the devices, without having to go through a translator. Handheld PCs and Handheld PC Professional devices require translators that are installed on the desktop PC.

The applications will be included with high-end PocketPCs, which will begin shipping within 90 days, according to Microsoft. New devices are expected from Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Casio and Symbol Technologies. Microsoft does not make the hardware.

PocketPC devices are expected to be available in two versions: Standard and Professional.

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