From Pen Computing #13, December 1996

Losing my religion?

A Newton user looks at Windows CE

©Copyright 1996 David MacNeill

It seems appropriate that I am writing this on my new Fujitsu notebook computer, a Pentium 100 running Windows 95. A die-hard Macintosh user since 1984, I nevertheless sold my eight month-old PowerBook to buy a Wintel machine only a few days after my first encounter with an HPC. Product Manager Jim Floyd of Microsoft and I spent over two hours with three pre-production Windows CE HPCs, running through the many features, lingering over small details, and standing back to just let it all sink in.

This changes everything. I felt like I was losing my religion.

Of course Microsoft would be a player in the handheld game -- I never doubted it -- but I really didn’t think they would do it this well. They have clearly been listening to users of existing handheld devices, and they certainly know what works and doesn’t work in the offices and cubicles of corporate America. Microsoft, if nothing else, knows business. They don’t do anything that doesn’t make them money, so when they decided to create a handheld platform they did it with the intention of cashing in. No surprise there. But what is surprising is that they seem to have done it with their hearts in the right place as well. The HPC platform is a compelling example of careful, human-centric design, stem to stern. I hope my friends at Apple will forgive me when I say that I haven’t been as wowed since I saw the late-beta Newton MessagePad in the summer of ‘93.

I spent a Friday afternoon just fooling around with a pre-production Casio HPC. I bombed around the web with Pocket IE and sent myself some email. I converted GIF files into HPC desktop (palmtop?) wallpaper, then dragged any old PC and Mac file I could find over to the HPC just to see what would happen. To my delight, everything worked just fine.

It was actually fun playing with Windows CE. Exciting, yet non-threatening, things are fun, and fun is perhaps the hardest thing to code. It will only work if you put some love into it. It never occurred to me that Microsoft employed people with the capacity -- the social bandwidth, if you will -- to create such pleasant environments.

They do.

-David MacNeill