A brief history of Windows Mobile (and CE too!)

So we all know about Windows Mobile and Windows CE but why is there a choice of both mobile Operating systems on some rugged PDA’s and what is the history of Windows Mobile and Windows CE?

This article is designed to support another article here that I’m posting in about 2 minutes, but here we look at the history of each OS.  It’s designed to give you an understanding as to why we still see both OS’s in today’s market.

Windows Mobile – A brief history of time!

I think of Windows Mobile as evolving due to the demand for small mobile devices.  Now, you and I both know that these devices have changed rapidly over the past 10 years and Windows Mobile has had to adapt to this.  Originally appearing as Pocket PC 2000.  It was designed for early PDA’s like the HP jornada and iPaq’s (Am I showing my age here!!?).  It was a CPU specific OS so all the software created for these devices had to be targeted at specific platforms.  These devices were largely unconnected and focussed on PIM and office style applications, much likes PC’s of that era did.

Then came PPC 2002.  This evolved due to the convergence of phones and PDA’s and as we saw the birth of the “Smartphone”.  PPC 2002 could cope with a PDA that also made phone calls, and dare I say handled GPRS data connections too!  We also started to see more connected applications like MSN Messenger come with the OS.

Windows Mobile 2003 is where it all started to get complicated.  Not just a change in name to reflect the growing demand for the smartphone, it came in 4 editions, Premium, Professional, Smartphone and Phone for PDA, it tried to be all things to all devices, whilst trying to up sell with its premium edition too.  We started seeing Bluetooth, a focus on email and internet applications as well as connecting devices like keyboards.  The Smartphone was becoming central to our needs already.  There was an SE version that came later.

Windows Mobile 5.0 was a huge change for Microsoft and it reflected a huge shift in importance of the smartphone not only to us customers but to Microsoft themselves.  It was built on top of .NET 1.0 compact framework, it had an even more visible shift in focus to media and connected applications and the most welcome change was probably persistent storage.  Until now, if your smartphone lost power, which it did quite rapidly back then, then all your settings and files were also lost.  This also gave big improvements on battery life.

Windows Mobile 6.0, was an evolution rather than revolution and it came with all kinds of upgrades designed to support a range of device

types.  WM6 came in 3 flavours; classic for PDA’s, std for non touch screen smartphones, and Professional for touch screen smartphones.  It supported a range of screen sizes, keyboard types and was built on the CE.5./2 platform which tied it far better to the Exchange and office platforms.

WM6.1 was a minor upgrade, and WM6.5 came as largely an interface upgrade that I believe was never part of the plan for Microsoft.  When you consider that WM5.0 was released in 2005 and WM6.1 and 6.5 haven’t really changed much at all in user experience, you start to understand how and why they have suffered against the iPhone, Blackberry and others in the consumer market.  WM6.5 is going to be available for at least 18 months as a device OS in the Rugged Market.

Windows Phone 7 is the answer and is the latest version of Windows Mobile if you like.  This OS is a complete overhaul to the Mobile OS and designed to pout Microsoft on more of an even footing with its rivals.  It is not due on any RUgged device as far as we know yet.

Windows CE has history too!

Now if you didn’t know about CE, then you;d be forgiven for thinking that Windows Mobile was invented by Microsoft as it addressed the need for a mobile OS.  However it’s not that simple and CE was actually around long before PPC or WM.  In fact PPC and WM were still based and built on CE right up until the latest WP7 OS and the differences are quite stark.

The major difference in CE is in its proposed usage.  CE was a coalition of Microsoft’s attempts to design and OS for systems that required low overheads, especially where CPU and memory was low and often where no fixed storage was present.  It was really designed for embedding into ROM after being customised and was essentially developed to run embedded systems.  This is where its future lies and you;d be surprised to know what CE is running in your household!

However when we talk about systems or devices that need to run on low CPU and Memory etc then it’s not hard to see why CE was also used to power early portable devices too.  Indeed PPC wasn’t even around in 1996 when CE was first seen on such devices.  So in a way CE was a means to an end, PPC was the refinement of an idea that has only really now cut the apron strings.

So CE started from CE 1.0 way back in 1996 and went through a whole load of refinements up to CE 6.0 that allow developers to customise, plug and play if you like, an OS that they can very cheaply develop and then use in devices that have low power needs.

In a funny way CE never really went away and is still available in Rugged PDA’s and laptops today.  In fact the reason it’s still around is probably because it still serves the Rugged PDA OS requirement well in some respects at least.  Its light, it can be customised easily for each device, the licensing is vastly reduced this reducing the cost of the device and its easy to develop on.

So hopefully this explains very broadly where PPC and WM came from and why we still see CE on rugged PDA’s, click here to go back to the main article.


The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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