On the eve of its developers’ conference in Denver next Monday, Microsoft Corp yesterday announced the availability of the third version of its operating system for handheld PCs, Windows CE. No sooner had the software giant done so than a whole host of vendors were tripping over themselves to announce support for the OS and show off new hardware products. Version 2.2, previously code-named Jupiter, features greater remote access support, a pocket version of Microsoft’s Access database, support for reading Office 95 and Office 97 files, and the ability to open attached IMAP4 and POP 3 email files. The latter is one of the biggest bonuses of the new OS. Previous versions only allowed users to directly access POP 3 compliant email servers, which didn’t include Redmond’s own Exchange server or the popular Lotus Domino alternative. To access those, users had to go via the desktop, which was cumbersome and slowed uptake by many corporate users. Roger Gulrajani, group product manager PC companion devices, Windows CE, told ComputerWire that one of the most significant improvements to the new OS was its support for new hardware differentiation, such as full-size VGA and Super VGA displays and alternative pointing devices such as a mouse, as well as additional processors. He said this would enable vendors to create a new breed of mobile devices that would sit, strategically, somewhere in between handhelds and the traditional laptop computer. I see the device as being a companion to a person’s PC, he said, it won’t replace the notebook or the PC. People will still take their laptops with them on business trips for the full richness of having multiple applications, like Office, but when it comes to just going home and wanting to be able to send and receive emails, these new devices will be ideal. He said the products would also be beneficial to students who have a PC at home but want to be able to take notes in the classroom, access the web and send e-mails. They don’t have to buy a laptop to do that and they can just go home and synchronize the data on their PCs. Gulrajani said he expected the typical device to be around US letter size (8.5 x 11 inches), to be approximately an inch thick and to weigh about two or three pounds. The screen size would typically be between nine or ten inches diagonally, he said. Vadem Inc (up until now has been a system OEM for Sharp Electronics Corp and Sharp itself ) has announced new products to take advantage of the operating system. But numerous others, including Casio Computer Company Ltd, Compaq Computer Corp, Fujitsu Ltd, Hewlett-Packard Co, Hitachi America Ltd, LG Electronics Inc and NEC Corp have said they also intend to deliver products by the end of the year. The Vadem Clio will sell for $999 and measures approximately 8.5 inches by 11 inches, weighs about 3 pounds, and has a built-in 33.6Kbps soft modem. The keyboard is approximately 85% of a full-size keyboard. The unit has a 12-hour battery life and while it does not include a hard drive, it does have PC Card slots, a Compact Flash port, 16Mb of RAM and 24Mb of ROM. Unfortunately, users who’ve already invested in handheld technology can’t just upgrade to the new operating system. Instead, customers will have to purchase one of the new devices to take advantage of the improved email facilities and so on. But Gulrajani said it was conceivable that manufacturers might offer the software as an upgrade. But really, its been designed from ground up for a new class of device, he said. He added that final pricing and availability of devices running the software will be determined by the OEMs.