I don’t understand it. Why aren’t Windows CE devices catching on? Instead, they’re getting ready to go the way of BetaMax.

A few months back, a colleague and I published two fact-filled, scientifically based (not really) articles fit for a high-noon showdown. The gunslingers? Palm Computing devices and Windows CE handheld computers.

As you’ll recall, I quite handily refuted any claims he made as to the Palm being a superior platform. In fact, I thought I left the Palm lying face down and bleeding on the canvas while awaiting medical attention. He may have a different interpretation, but he’s from the Big Apple, so he’s a little jaded anyway.

But then I heard production was being suspended for my undisputed world champion Philips Nino. How could that be?

I decided to look up the numbers. When I did, I felt I’d just been nailed by an Oscar de la Hoya one-two punch combination. I wish I could say I didn’t see it coming.

Palm Computing device sales are beating the pants off Windows CE computers. Then they’re wiping the floor with what’s left of the CE platform’s dignity.

I know, I know. You already knew that, right?

Well, I had trouble believing it, seeing how utterly dominant the Windows CE devices are compared to Palm units. And that’s not up for debate.

Don’t get me wrong
The Palms are cute little devices that perform simple tasks well. But then again, so are iMacs, and how many of those do you really want to administer on your network?

While Palm designers have done a great job creating a small device that handles contact management, basic calendaring, and task scheduling applications well, Windows programmers have surpassed it with the native superiority found on CE units.

Want an example? I’ll give you four:

  1. CE devices sync flawlessly with Microsoft Outlook, the dominant software application for enterprise e-mail and calendaring. Palms don’t. The folks at Palm Computing were nice enough to lend me a Palm IIIx, which I compared to my Nino in a real-world environment for 30 days. The CE device syncs in seconds; the Palm took several minutes. No big deal, unless you sync up about eight times a day, which I do.
  2. Despite tips from my New York colleague, I never could get the Palm to properly schedule and edit recurring appointments. The CE had no trouble.
  3. How about entering and editing recurring tasks on the Palm IIIx? Fuggetaboutit. It’s a cinch with CE.
  4. Notes? Where are they on the Palm? All I had was some Apple-like to-do list function, which didn’t automatically convert to a .doc, as notes on my CE device do.

Those are just my software beefs. Here are a couple of my hardware complaints.

It’s impossible to remove the stylus when the plastic protective cover is open. There are no problems with my Nino, which features a slick, custom-designed Samsonite leather sleeve. While this, too, doesn’t seem like a big deal, I couldn’t remember to grab the stylus first, and it proved to be a maddening little detail.

Also, why do I have to choose between rechargeable batteries or expandable memory? The Palm line typically hasn’t allowed both the use of Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries out-of-the-box and the option to upgrade memory. My CE device uses either regular batteries or Ni-Cads, plus I can upgrade the memory.

To be fair, there were a few Palm features I preferred over those of my Nino:

The Palm stylus blows the Nino’s cheap plastic, one-piece pointer away. In addition to possessing nice heft, the Palm’s stylus features a sweet retractable pin for resetting the device. With the Nino, I’ve had to ask bewildered flight attendants for paper clips.

The Palm IIIx screen is much easier to read, although I’ve learned to always keep the backlight turned on by default on the Nino, which helps considerably.

The Palm IIIx is much smaller, and weighs less, than the Nino. Never underestimate the importance of size and weight for an item you’ll lug around with you virtually everywhere you go. The new Aero offerings from Compaq go a long way toward eliminating this liability with the CE devices, but fair is fair. Palm Computing got the size right first.

All things considered, why are the Palms scoring such higher marks on people’s scorecards? I’ve got two answers.

First, there’s been a single concerted effort by Palm Computing to market and promote its products, and they’ve done so well. Palm executives have done an excellent job marketing the different products in the line without cannibalizing the sales of other models. In other words, Palms aren’t marketed to compete with other Palms.

Windows CE devices, meanwhile, are being marketed by Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Philips, and others. Microsoft, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to provide the single uniting marketing force these devices so badly need.

Second, the populace says Palms are cool. And they are. They’re appearing in everything from sitcoms to the silver screen.

If it’s good enough for Dr. Christmas Jones…
Just remember, though, that Denise Richards saves the world using a CE handheld in The World Is Not Enough. If that’s not enough to convince Palm users to switch, there’s nothing left to say.

Erik Eckel has earned MCP+I and MCSE accreditations from Microsoft. He strenuously denies that Richards’ use of a CE device in the latest Bond flick tainted his judgment. Then again, Eckel found it believable that Richards played the role of a nuclear physicist, a stretch of imagination that prompted one TechRepublic editorial director to claim “it was the Golden Gate of suspensions of belief,” so judge for yourself.

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