Tuesday, February 1, 2000

A student’s view of Windows CE


By Dan Huber

Windows CE has had a short history. It's come a long way from the meager operating system that powered small pocket organizers to powerful embedded portable computers that carry out a wide variety of tasks, many of which are far more complex than any other portable device could accomplish. Third-party developers worked hard to help drive this operating system even farther. No longer must you settle for just an address book and a lightweight suite of productivity applications -- now you have access to such goodies as MP3 audio players, clones of popular console video games, powerful database applications, photo manipulation software, and much more.

The hardware that you run such software on has matured to meet the demands these intensive programs bring. Every new H/PC is bringing with it a color screen. Many are also Internet-ready with internal modems, a great convenience feature. The high-end Palm-sized PCs are equipped with brilliant color displays, too. I was able to demo a Hewlett Packard Jornada 430 Palm-sized PC, and I sampled an MP3 audio clip using the already-installed Utopiasoft Hum software for playback. I was impressed with the clarity of the music, especially as it was being outputted from a small speaker element. Windows CE has definitely grown and improved since the days of monochromatic H/PCs such as my ancient Philips Velo 500.

New products are great, but is the price too high?

As a student in high school, it seems to me that the price of the hardware has risen. The use of color displays has surely been a contributing factor to this. Although the convenience has increased significantly, and the applications for these devices have increased due to the color screen (such things as image viewers are really only appreciated in color), it's also necessitated more powerful (and expensive) batteries to meet the demands of these screens. Increased storage has also become a trend with the better H/PCs and P/PCs equipped with 32 megabytes of RAM. Processor speeds have entered triple digits. The trend that Windows CE has taken is to be the personal digital assistant with a knack for multimedia.

While students probably aren't the target market for Windows CE devices, students such as myself were once capable of keeping up with the market trends and the latest hardware. That possibility has faded somewhat with the higher costs of H/PCs on today's market. It seems that companies sell their products best when they equip them to attract via flash and pizzazz. That's not all that's found in the new hardware, but it's surely some of the more pronounced features of these devices. That's what has possibly put the price just a bit out of reach for a lot of us.