Windows Mobile or Windows CE

Hmm, Windows Mobile or Windows CE?  We get a lot of people asking this question and it is indeed a confusing conundrum.  Today I wanted to end this confusion by setting out the differences between the Two mobile operating systems

First this article explains a history of Windows Mobile and Windows CE , because understanding this and looking at the versions of each and where they came from certainly helps to explain why we have a choice today.  Second we’ll look at the pros and cons of each OS with a bit of opinion to boot!  Thirdly we’ll look at the future of each and where we’re headed touching on Windows Phone 7 and where that joins the party.  Lastly we’ll explain which one you need to help you on your way!

So why do we see CE on devices today?

Well largely as discussed int the history article, linked to above, it’s because it was here, it was the only OS that suited portable devices at the time.  CE ended up staying around because it’s actually a decent match for a rugged PDA.  Its cheap, its customisable, it offers a Windows experience complete with start button! and it’s easy to develop on and customise your applications on top of.  It also allows manufacturers to provide a very customised OS that allows you low access to the device making it easier to develop on and lock down.

Windows Mobile on the other hand, despite being largely built on the CE base platform is far more suited to the demands of today and in the future.

Where are we at today and which one should I choose?

5 years ago I would have told customers to choose CE4.2 for their Rugged PDA OS.  The reason?  WM2003 was hard to develop for and whilst WM5.0 had .NET it really did restrict what you could do with the device and was a far cry from .NET 3.5 we use today.  Add to this, Mobile solutions were a lot rarer, making them quite specialised which in turn made the demand for a generic solution quite low.  As long as your solution worked on your own devices and you had control then that was fine.

Today the opposite is true and I would always recommend WM6.x unless you have a specific requirement.  With WM you can develop a lot more generically.  OK, there are always going to be some lower level PInvokes to be done but by-and-large these days you can develop what you need safely knowing it will run on any device supporting .NET. If you change your CE devices you’re going to need to look at the software again and it’s rarely a quick exercise.

WM also gives you a far better user experience.  Microsoft have finally woken up to the fact that people do things very differently on a phone than they do on their PC and whilst WM is far from perfect its far better than the Windows 98 type of experience you have with CE.  The fact that users are more commonly using the PDA for their every day voice and email tasks means the OS becomes far more important to them than say someone using a CE device, locked down to performing 1 task, in a warehouse environment.

So what do I need?

In a nutshell if portability, usability, ease of development and being as future proof as you can be then WM is what you need.  If you are locking the device down or need some low level granularity, not interested in tapping generic GPS or other areas that are probably not supported on CE with a .NET wrapper and you don’t want the user interface faff of WM then go CE.

We still a lot of warehouse solutions refreshing their CE Rugged PDA’s with new CE devices but its rare people buy CE for new solution unless they specifically have a need for it.

Lastly a word on Windows phone 7.  As we know this is Microsoft’s new OS and after chatting with one of the Microsoft chaps about this OS, he confirmed to me that it is the consumer focussed hone and WM6.5 wiull be available to Rugged PDA manufacturers for some time to come, at least 18 months.  WP7 is not greatly suited to the rugged environment at the moment but I’m sure things will happen so that it will be.

One thing is for certain, we’re not going to see all 3 OS’s for long and if it comes to a war then Ce is going to be the loser with WP 7 ultimately wining the war.

We’re always here to ask advice so give me a shout if you need some.


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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