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French Version

Interface : PocketPC or Palm ?

Windows operating system, and another proprietary system. It would be wrong to assume that.

JORDAN (Star) - If you're planning to buy a handheld computer then the question you're probably asking is whether to go for a Palm PDA- Palm OS-based unit- or to go for a Pocket- PC system, running the PocketPC 2002 OS.

Most people think it's a simple choice between a Windows operating system, and another proprietary system. It would be wrong to assume that; the reason being that you can get the same ease of communication with your desktop PC with both standards.

The Palm OS allows you download or upload data from the main Windows applications including Word, Excel and Outlook. However, you will need third-party software to access Office documents and databases, whereas Microsoft's Pocket PC versions of its Office applications are built into its OS.

But Palm is still very attractive because of its user base of 16 million Palm OS devices, with a staggering 47 percent of the market. The result is a massive pool of developers, producing more than 11,000 applications so far.

Microsoft is trying to match that by creating its own developer community. It claims to have, so far, 3,800 'partners' developing software and hardware products for the PocketPC platform.

Also, from a manufacturing perspective, Microsoft can rest assured that the weight of Compaq, HP, Casio, NEC, Toshiba and others is firmly behind the PocketPC platform, with Compaq's recent PocketPC sales alone already approaching the figures of recent Palm Inc. sales.

Palm & Handspring, the top two Palm-OS unit producers, are not standing still. They will merge to counter Microsoft's push and unify their marketing efforts. The fight for market share makes sense, as the handheld computer revolution is still in its beginnings. The year 2001 was a fairly good year for handheld computers (Palm and PocketPC based), with worldwide sales growing by around 10 percent in unit terms. That is, roughly, 12 million units worldwide.

As for the recent versions of these competing operating systems, it seems Microsoft is picking up on the right approach.

For years, Palm's approach was ease-of-use and simplicity in developing its OS, while Microsoft's Windows CE tried to do too many things and ended up being to complex and under-achieving on the basic functions.

Now, though, Windows CE's latest version, which has been renamed PocketPC 2002, incorporates simplicity in every aspect of its operation.

Another question is whether now is the right time to buy a handheld, or if you should wait for another six months or so? Intel has just unveiled its Xscale micro-architecture, which will enable handheld makers to create new units with different design features and, probably, better battery life. Palm should incorporate the new processor within the first half of 2002, making its units the fastest on the market. The same processor is not expected to appear in Pocket- PCs before the second half of 2002 and will come with 400 MHz.

Still, by the end of the year that processor's availability in PocketPC's will combine with new, lower pricing to make PocketPC systems very appealing to first-time buyers. It is expected that color Pocket PCs will drop by $200, to about $375.

Once they match the Palm-OS systems on price, the real battle will start.

Maybe, the best choice is to wait. If you can't, get the cheapest unit you find, whether Palm-based or PocketPC-based; chances are you'll be throwing it away in a year's time anyway!

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