Users find hole in their PocketPC upgrades

Those receiving the latest PocketPC 2002 upgrade say they are surprised to discover some key software missing, and Microsoft admits its own 'confusion'
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

PocketPC users who ordered an upgrade to Microsoft's new PocketPC 2002 operating system back in September began receiving their software last week, and many have discovered to their surprise that some key software isn't included in the deal, and may never be released.

PocketPC 2002 versions of MSN Messenger, Terminal Services Client, a spell checker and support for WAP (wireless application protocol) in Pocket Internet Explorer do not appear on the upgrade CD-ROM. Microsoft said it "may or may not" released the software at some point in the future. The programs are all supported in Pocket PC 2000, the previous version of the operating system.

The upgrade is only available for Compaq's iPaq handheld, because that is the only device with the appropriate hardware, and users who ordered the CD-ROM say they are chagrined at both Microsoft and Compaq for not making the situation clear. "Here I am at home, with my recently upgraded iPaq 3670, and my new hub, wireless access point, CF sleeve, and CF wireless LAN card... with Messenger nowhere to be found," wrote one user in one of the milder posts on the PocketPC Internet forum at microsoft.public.pocketpc. "Well, at least the boxes are pretty."

For most users, the only critical applications missing are MSN Messenger and Terminal Services Client (TSC). Messenger is an instant-messaging client, and is one of the products that Microsoft is promoting most heavily in the desktop Windows XP platform. TSC is important for some business users, letting them log onto or manage remote servers via a LAN connection.

Derek Brown, Microsoft's mobility evangelist for the Mobile Devices Division, said that these two applications may never appear. "No one should upgrade a Pocket PC with the assumption that Terminal Services Client or MSN Messenger will ever be available," he wrote in the same forum. "If these apps are must have for you then assume the worse - that we will not release these - before you make your upgrade decision."

However, users say they were never informed that they might not get all the features built into PocketPC 2002, which is sold in its complete form pre-installed on new handhelds from Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and others. Because of memory limitations, the full operating system could not squeezed into the ROM (read-only memory) of older iPaq models, but much of the software that didn't fit -- applications like Windows Media Player and Reader -- was provided for installation into the handheld's RAM (random-access memory).

Compaq began selling pre-orders for the upgrade in mid-September, ahead of PocketPC 2002's 4 October launch. Some users say they bought their iPaqs in September, believing they would be able to upgrade to the new software. For those who made their purchases from 4 September to 30 November, Compaq provided a free upgrade, costing £13 in the UK for the CD and postage and handling; for other buyers the upgrade costs £37 in the UK, including postage, handling and VAT.

Compaq says it did not promise a full upgrade, and that it made clear all along that some applications would not fit into the ROM of older machines. The manufcaturer says that the availability of applications outside the core operating system is Microsoft's responsibility. However, the section of Compaq's Web site that describes the upgrade and allows a user to order the software does not list which applications are and are not included. The site does not warn buyers that the upgrade doesn't include everything in the built-in version of PocketPC 2002.

Microsoft's Brown admitted that the company has not been clear even internally about whether Messenger and TSC would be released. "I gave the MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) the information that these apps would be available for RAM install back in September. And to some reviewers I told them they wouldn't be available," said Brown in the PocketPC Internet forum. "Within Microsoft there was some confusion whether we were going to do these applications or not -- and if so, when." An MVP is an non-Microsoft employee that the company recognises for their contributions to Microsoft evangelism.

"I agree we should be doing a better job of communicating the delta between the upgrade and new Pocket PCs," Brown wrote.

To make matters more confusing, several users reported obtaining copies of the two applications in a RAM-installable format which they said worked perfectly and appeared finished. Microsoft representatives insisted that these are most likely beta-test versions of Messenger and TSC, saying that the software must go through the company's final release process to be certified.

However, users questioned why the applications should not be released to the public in pre-release form, and questioned why Microsoft is not confirming that they will eventually be released, since they appear to be near completion.

If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away.

See the Hardware News Section for the latest update on everything from MP3 players and PDAs to supercomputing.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Telecoms forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.

Editorial standards