From Pen Computing Magazine #22, June 1998

Newton Notes

Windows CEmate?

©Copyright 1998 David MacNeill

Brace yourself. I believe the eMate will someday resurface as a color device with an Apple-modified, licensed version of Windows CE at its core. Outrageous? Hear me out.

Exhibit A: Pioneered by the eMate
In the press release dated February 27, 1998, Apple made it clear that they are "committed to affordable mobile computing, pioneered by the eMate," and that they will "be serving this market with Mac OS-based products beginning in 1999."" While most reporters have assumed that Apple will create a "Mac OS Lite" from scratch, I read this as possibly meaning extending the Mac OS to embrace Windows CE mobile technology. A simple face lift of the Windows CE interface is all that would be necessary to make it look and feel Mac-like, and the addition of Apple-derived code would support the "Mac OS-based products" statement in the press release.

Since the release of Windows CE 2.0, many of my readers have told me they find the Windows CE interface even more Mac-like than the Newton OS. It has icons on a desktop, discrete data files, nested folders, a "system folder" you can browse and edit, and hierarchical cascading menus. Like it or not, this is more like a Mac than Newton’s pen-centric interface, unified data soup structure, inaccessible system components, and essentially flat file system.

Exhibit B: Extending the Mac OS
Steve Jobs is quoted in the release as saying "This decision is consistent with our strategy to focus all of our software development resources on extending the Macintosh operating system." Again, this could very well mean that Apple will focus its efforts on the Mac OS and let Microsoft take care of the mobile market. Microsoft has reportedly invested in excess of 100 million dollars developing Windows CE, while Apple burned up an estimated one billion dollars on the Newton. Perhaps Apple cannot afford to support the creation of another OS, even a "lite" version of their existing one. It makes more sense that Apple would let Microsoft take the risk by simply licensing Windows CE for its future mobile products. It is a proven technology that supports the eMate’s StrongARM processor. It is a no-brainer for developers, who can quickly create new software products using the Windows-based development tools they already know and love.

Exhibit C: CE devices go wide
It’s no secret that Microsoft’s Windows CE strategy is to have Windows running everywhere on everything. In its embedded form, Windows CE is designed to serve as the operating system from products ranging from industrial automation devices to home appliances, and we have already seen it on mobile computers, terminals, and automobiles. It is logical to assume that Windows CE devices such as the new "widebody HPC" color machines from NEC and LG will soon grow to incorporate laptop-size screens and close to full-size keyboards. In other words, the form factor pioneered by the eMate.

Exhibit D: Technology sharing
It is also public knowledge that Apple and Microsoft have entered into a technology sharing agreement as part of Microsoft’s recent investment in Apple. The details of this agreement are not available, but I believe it is quite likely that Microsoft now has access to just about any technology they want from Apple, including Newton.

Two sources have informed me that the former Newton group went to Redmond early this year to discuss the possibility of using Windows CE on a future version of the eMate. In a recent meeting at the Microsoft campus with a senior manager of future Windows CE-based devices, I received a friendly "no comment" in response to my request for a confirmation of Apple’s visit.

However, later in the meeting we discussed the huge opportunities for Windows CE-devices in the education market for small, simple computers--particularly now that Apple has killed the eMate. There are 57 million K-12 students and only 7 million computers in schools. I have a pile of e-mails from disappointed educators who had pinned their hopes on the eMate to revitalize educational computing. I believe these people would warmly welcome an Apple-branded eMate-style device even if it had a Microsoft OS at its core.

I rest my case
I generally don’t put much stock in wacko conspiracy theories, but I do think it is possible that Gates asked Jobs to kill off Newton in order to foster the eventual acceptance of Windows CE devices by die-hard Apple buyers. The well-timed announcement and subsequent release of the Mac version of the Microsoft Office 98 suite also supports my scenario. The "CeMate" would of course synchronize seamlessly with Office apps running on the Mac. All they would have to do is beef up Outlook Express to include calendar and task list functionality to match the Windows version. There is no reason why Microsoft’s fully automatic ActiveSync technology wouldn’t work just as well on a Macintosh as it does on a Windows PC. The benefit to Mac users is that we finally get a robust PIM synchronization scheme, while the obvious benefit to Microsoft is greater Mac Office 98 sales. And Apple doesn’t have to do a thing except change the eMate’s case slightly to accommodate a color screen and new ROMs, then sit back and rake in the bucks.

Imagine being Steve Jobs. Your customers are demanding an inexpensive, Mac-compatible mobile computer, and they are angry with you for killing off Newton. In this market you face the almost hopeless task of competing with Microsoft--again. You barely have the resources to save your baby, the Macintosh, and you don’t really like mobile devices anyway. What would you do?

-David MacNeill is executive editor of Pen Computing Magazine. Newton Notes™ has been in continuous publication since the release of the Newton in 1993.