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Friday November 17 08:16 AM EST
Can PocketPC finally break Palm's grip?

By Jason D. O'Grady,, Special to ZDNet

Will Microsoft finally muscle its way into the PDA market?

LAS VEGAS -- Comdex/Fall "00 is a major milestone in the advancement of the PDA (handheld, or whatever you want to call it) as a platform. The things are everywhere: Attendees in cab lines are using them to take notes and check their schedules; exhibitors are using them to show their latest wares; heck, I even spotted the things on the casino floor!

It should come as a surprise to no one that the PDA platform is growing. After all, it makes a lot of sense to own a $150 pocket-sized computer, especially for businesspeople on the go. Having access to your contacts and calendars is an indispensable business tool, especially while traveling. Add wireless Internet access to the equation, and you have an extremely compelling platform.

PDA vendors such as Palm, Handspring, Sony, Compaq, HP, and Casio recognize this financial imperative, and each brought its best wares to hawk at Comdex.


Easily the most compelling Comdex manifestation of the PocketPC platform was the demo of the new Ricochet PC cards from Novatel and Sierra Wireless. The PC card and service enable you get online and surf the Web at an astonishing 128 Kbps -- almost three times as fast as the best dial-up connection I can achieve with a wire. The only caveat is that you must live in an area that has Ricochet service. Unlike CDPD and other cellular protocols, Ricochet requires your area to be wired with special base stations that are mounted atop telephone poles and street lights every quarter to half mile.

The coolest thing about PocketPC devices is that you can insert a full-size PC card into some of them, like the iPaq 3600. Adding the Novatel Merlin for Ricochet (available in December, exact price and availability to be announced later this year) or the Sierra Wireless AirCard 400 ($329 Q1 2001) to the iPaq turns it into a fire-breathing Web devices that puts CDPD dial-up service, like that found in the Palm VII or Omnisky, to shame.

When you take into account that Ricochet is only available in limited areas and that it can be rather pricey ($70 per month for unlimited access), CDPD modems are not a bad alternative. But if you are lucky enough to have Ricochet coverage in your area and you are independently wealthy, run, don't walk to your nearest vendor to pick up this killer combination.



Not anxious to convert anyone to MCOM but willing to share info with those who likewise wish to " Educate, Amuse and Enrich".

Wireless & Mobile is a "Work in Progress". Nothing yet has all the answers.
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