Microsoft Corp has unveiled a new version of its Windows operating system for mobile devices that adds such features as PowerPoint viewing while making it easier for gadget makers to equip phones and handheld computers with typewriter keyboards and iPod-sized hard drives.
Windows Mobile 5.0, introduced by Chairman Bill Gates at the company's annual conference for mobile software developers in Las Vegas, also marks an about-face in marketing by eliminating the distinct Pocket PC and Smartphone brands of the operating system.
Other feature enhancements include updates to the mobile versions of Microsoft Word and Excel that better maintain the formatting of documents created on a computer and allow charts to be created from a spreadsheet.
The elimination of the five-year-old Pocket PC brand for PDAs and the separate Smartphone label puts Windows Mobile on the same page as rival mobile device platforms such as Symbian and BlackBerry.
It also marks another change of course in Microsoft's long-evolving strategy to extend the dominance of its Windows computer platform to mobile devices.
Those efforts began with a single platform based on Windows CE, short for consumer electronics, but then fragmented into three custom-made flavors: Pocket PC organizers, 'smart' cell phones, and then Pocket PCs equipped with phones.
While the underlying software code for those platforms remain about 90 per cent identical, Microsoft has now decided to emphasize the familiar Windows name.
But beyond separate brand names, the new Windows Mobile does remove certain technological distinctions that gave the phone and PDA platforms different capabilities.
One of these is integrated support for Wi-Fi short-range wireless connections, now available for smart phones rather than just Pocket PCs. Another is so-called 'persistent' memory storage, which preserves basic user information, contacts and personal settings when a device's battery runs out of power. This capability was previously available for smart phones but not Pocket PCs.
The updated version of Mobile Windows also serves as another example of Microsoft seeking to barge into a hot new sector where it's late to the party -- much as it responded to the Netscape Navigator Web browser with Internet Explorer and to the Palm Pilot with Pocket PC.
This time, by adding support for internal hard drives, Microsoft is enabling device makers to design phones and organizers with enough storage capacity to compete in the portable music player market dominated by the iPod from Apple Computer Inc.
Windows Mobile accounts for a tiny fraction of Microsoft's business. Combined, software revenue from mobile and embedded devices, such as auto dash systems, and totaled $80 million in the first three months of 2005.That was up 31 per cent from a year earlier, but amounted to less than a tenth of Microsoft's overall revenue for the quarter.