A new version of Windows Mobile with mostly minor interface and productivity enhancements will begin appearing on smart phones by midyear, Microsoft executives say.
Windows Mobile 6--previously known by the code name Crossbow--will make its formal debut at 3GSM, a major cell phone trade show that begins Monday in Barcelona, Spain. But details are already being widely reported.
A number of key improvements in Windows Mobile 6 will only benefit enterprise customers whose businesses invest in Exchange Server 2007. For example, with Windows Mobile 6 you search your Exchange 2007 mail folder remotely.
But Microsoft has also tried to make e-mail management easier for all Windows Mobile users. Setting up an e-mail account requires fewer clicks than ever, as you can begin the process from the main Messaging screen. A number of e-mail commands have been streamlined into shortcuts. You can also view a history of your activity with any of your contacts.
You can easily apply flags to messages, and address book entries show a history of your contact with them.
Office Mobile Suite
The Windows Mobile versions of key Microsoft Office apps--Word, Excel, and PowerPoint--have been beefed up slightly. You can now edit data in an Excel spreadsheet (although you can't create formulas or new spreadsheets).
The calendar application now checks for schedule conflicts when you get an invitation. And borrowing from the new desktop editions of Office (2007), Windows Mobile 6's calendar sports a vaguely ribbon-like interface that shows your free time during a day.
One improvement with crowd-pleasing potential: Microsoft says it has made it much easier to use a Bluetooth-enabled Windows Mobile smartphone as a modem. The devices now support 320-by-320 displays (previously Windows Mobile's closest option was a 240-by-240 display, although it did support other resolutions).
Windows Mobile 6 devices are also designed to afford easy access to Windows Live features.
Getting Windows Mobile 6
A number of vendors are expected to announced and show new Windows Mobile 6 handsets at 3GSM, but at least some people will be able to upgrade their Windows Mobile 5 devices via a firmware upgrade, Microsoft said. Vendors can set their own policies on this.
Interestingly, Microsoft has changed its thinking about different Windows Mobile editions. Previously, the high-end version--Windows Mobile for Pocket PC--supported devices with keyboards, while a lighter client, dubbed Windows Mobile for Windows Smartphones, targeted people with more conventional cell phone handsets.
That distinction appears to be going away. There are still two editions of Windows Mobile, but now the standard version is intended for devices that have no touchscreen--regardless of whether they have a QWERTY keyboard or not. Windows Mobile Pro, in contrast, is for devices with touchscreens.
Microsoft is already at work on the next edition of Windows Mobile, code named Photon.