Pocket PC Wireless and Beyond (Sept 15 2000)


The following report is not a detailed report on the hardware/software discussed and used during this conference. If you want my opinions on the current crop of Pocket PCs, please read my recent reviews… Instead, this report is a look at the overall experience of the trip and the people I met.

Last week I was privileged enough to attend the Pocket PC Wireless and Beyond conference at Microsoft located in Redmond, Washington. Several weeks ago, Microsoft
sent invitations to 35 or so of the most influential Palm people (and some Pocket PC / Palm people)
inviting them to their facilities for an introduction to the Pocket PC and a
sneak peak at their future visions.

When I first received the invite, I was very excited at the prospects of getting a free, all expenses paid trip to Seattle. I wasn’t aware of
who the other invitees were and thought that the conference was for Pocket PC people. As you all know, I pretty much use both a Palm and a Pocket PC and find myself frequently switching back and forth as my mood/needs
change. When I found out that the conference was for Palm people I thought… wow, what’s this all about…? Were we going to be assimilated? πŸ™‚ The attendees were made up of USENET newsgroup (comp.sys.palmtops.pilot) people,
popular Palm based web page webmasters, PDA reviewers/writers, and Palm User Group

List of Attendees:

  Arthur Hagen		Newsgroup  Scott Leighton		Newsgroup  Jeff Kirvin		Newsgroup / jeffkirvin.com  Jennifer Shelamer	Newsgroup  Peter Da Silva		Newsgroup  Steven G. Tyler		Newsgroup  Holly Ashby		Nashville Palm Users Group/Interpug  Michael T. Ashby	Nashville Palm Users Group/Interpug  Charles LaFleur		Baton Rouge Palm Users Group  Jay S. Leber		Colorado Palm Users Group  Peter M. Fine		New York City Digital Assistant Users' Group  Rachel Luxemborg	San Francisco Palm Users Group  John Waller		Silicon Valley Palm Users Group  Michael Steinburg	New England Palm Usersgroup  Rick Broida		Author  Calvin O. Parker	Author  Dave Johnson		Author  Steve Bush		Brighthand  Julie Strietelmeier	Gadgeteer  Joel Evans		Geek.com  Rob Hughes		Geek.com  Sam Evans		Geek.com  Nicholas Triano		Geek.com  Jim McCarthy 		Palm Guru  Tim Warner		Palmlife  Hal Schechner		Palmstation  Wes Salmon		PDA Buzz  Eric Vinson		PDA Buzz  Steven Sande		Pdantic  Richard Kettner		Pocket Gear  Nathan Miller		Pocket Gear  Slawek Pruchnik		Pocket Gear  Eric Levine		Smaller.com  John "Moto" Chow	Techzone.com  Kimberly Lau 		Semperaptus.com  Franco Martinez		Palmaserv.com  

Time passed quickly and the day arrived for me to leave for the Indianapolis airport. So I packed my bags (taking a Palm VIIx, Stowaway folding keyboard, Palm V, Palm IIIc, iPAQ and digital camera with me). 

My flight to Seattle from Indianapolis got a late start and as a result, I had only about 12 mins to get from my arrival gate to my departure gate at the O’Hare airport in Chicago. 12mins might sound like a lot, but it isn’t when you are lugging two heavy bags and the gates are about 100 miles apart! Ok, I’m exaggerating… the gates were only 50 miles apart. Luckily I didn’t miss the plane although I
believe I was the last one onboard. 

Then after I was all settled in, I realized that I wasn’t in the right seat. According to my ticket, I was supposed to have a window seat and instead I was seated in the aisle. I didn’t feel like griping about it so I stayed put. I wish I would have switched though as I missed some great scenery. I ended up demoing all my PDAs to the passenger beside me. He had never played with a Palm or Pocket PC before and was really impressed. He was very interested in the Palm VIIx and the ability to check his email and stocks wirelessly. Other than that, the flight was pretty boring with the highlight being the chicken sandwich that was served for lunch. It came with something that was called coleslaw but tasted and looked terrifying to me. πŸ™‚

Landing in Seattle went without a hitch. I lugged my bags to the baggage area (ummm, what’s wrong with that picture) to meet the person that would take me to the hotel. The driver was there holding a sign with my name on it just like in the movies which was
kind of cool. Ok, I’m a sap πŸ™‚ I stood there with Uri the driver while we waited for another person. This person ended up being Franco Martinez of
Palmaserve. He had actually flown in on the same flight as me. I wish I would have known that, I would have figured out a way to talk to him during the almost 4hr
plane ride.

After Franco arrived, Uri took the two of us to meet two other passengers that had also
arrived earlier. Eric Levine from Smaller.com and Jim McCarthy of
PalmGuru.com. Jim’s first words to me were that I looked great and must have lost weight. Hmmmm, I guess my pics on the website make me look fat. Maybe I should start drinking one Slimfast shake for breakfast, one for lunch and have a sensible meal for dinner? πŸ™‚ 

During the short ride to the hotel, we all chatted and joked. After we arrived at the hotel, I checked in, and went up to my room to unload and freshen up. Before the trip, we
had all agreed to meet in the hotel bar before the conference reception later that night. So, I headed
down to the bar with my Palm VIIx and Palm IIIc.

Walking into the bar, I looked around till I saw a large group of guys in the corner. The first person that I recognized was Hal
Schechner of Palmstation.com. Everyone recognized me as I walked up. Hellos, and introductions were exchanged rapidly. Then everyone wanted to beam me their business cards via their Palms. So in a flurry of beaming, that was accomplished. Steven Tyler (no, not from Aerosmith… but from the USENET newsgroups) was the person pretty much directing the beaming activities. By the time a few more people arrived at the bar, he had the electronic business card
exchange process was down to a science. The new person would pass their Palm around the group and those that wanted to would beam and receive the info. 

Calvin Parker was there with his brand new Sony Clie which he let me ‘review’. We all examined this new gadget and chatted about
its new features. Calvin was kind enough to allow me to borrow it for about an hour so that I could take pictures and do a quick review (that I’ll be posting sometime this week). 

Peter da Silva was there from the newsgroups passing out CDs of Free BSD operating system.
Jay Leber from the Colorado Palm Users Group also showed up and passed out a few Palm IIIc t-shirts.

Some of us were speculating about what Pocket PC we would be given. I kept saying that I thought it would be the Casio E-125 due to the fact that the Compaq iPAQs are hard to come by.

It was fun finally meeting all the people that I’ve emailed / talked with in the past: Calvin Parker, Tim Warner, Hal
Schechner, and Michael Ashby from the #Palmchat IRC channel that I frequent every day. It was also nice meeting
Greg Gaub from the Seattle Palm User Group. Although he wasn’t invited to the conference, he showed up at the bar to meet and
greet everyone.

Left to right: Hal Schechner, Calvin Parker, Me, Tim Warner

Around 6:30pm, we all wandered up to the banquet room for the official reception. We got to meet Beth Goza and Derek
Brown of Microsoft and were given a blue Pocket PC / Microsoft fleece vest as a welcoming gift. They served us some food and let us each introduce
ourselves to the group. One person made a comment which has stuck in my head. I think it was Michael
Steinberg of Coola! that said that it took Microsoft to bring together the most influential group of Palm Users. So we dubbed the group the Microsoft Palm User Group. πŸ™‚

Beth and Derek were very accepting of everyone’s little jabs at Windows and Windows CE. I think they even made some jokes themselves. They also wouldn’t give us any hints about which Pocket PC we would be given the next day. Beth kept saying that we would be VERY happy.

Joel Evans of PDAGeek showed off his RIM 957 wireless PDA. It has a VERY nice screen but the keyboard is tiny. You have to use the tips of your thumbs to type. With a little practice it probably wouldn’t be too bad.

I noticed that almost everyone had a cool cell phone. I’ve never been that interested in
cell phones but I think that might be changing. My area is finally getting digital service so it might be time to check out the technology.

I sat at a table with Steve Bush of Brighthand, Franco
Martinez, and Charlie Lafleur of the Baton Rouge Palm Users Group. The time went by quickly; lasting till around 9pm when they kicked us out of the room. Some of us ended up back down at the bar still chatting, eating and drinking. I was pretty tired due to the 2hr time difference and took off for my room around 10:30pm – 11:00pm. 

The next morning, we were to be down at the lobby at 7:30am to ride a bus to the new Microsoft Campus where we would spend most of the day. During the ride, Michael
Steinberg told me all about Coola! and the New England Palm Users Group that he
helped start.

First we were treated to a full breakfast in their very nice cafeteria. After filling our stomachs, we were ushered into the conference room. There were rows of desks with IBM PCs running Windows 2000. Each machine had a gorgeous flat panel monitor. Wow, I want one of those!
When I walked into the room and went to find a seat, I noticed that there were bags on the chairs. At first I thought that other people had already taken the seats but then I noticed that they were on all the chairs. I thought yay, a free bag. Then I set it on the ground and set
down. It was then that I noticed the iPAQ box on the desk. Wow, I was wrong, we were getting an iPAQ instead of the Casio E-125 like I had thought. Then I saw the HP 548 box behind it. Wow, two Pocket PCs! 

I started looking at the bag. It was pretty heavy so I opened it and freaked out as I pulled accessory after accessory out of it. It felt just like Christmas. There was the Pretec
Compact Flash 56k modem, Socket CF card Ethernet card, 128mb Kingston CF card and PC Card adapter, Sony headphones, Boosteroo headphone amp, Pocket PC Fun Pack, multipen stylus, and probably more little things that I can’t remember. Those people that had compatible
cell phones were given cables that connected to the Pocket PC in order to use the
cell phone as a wireless modem. Since I didn’t have a compatible phone, I (and others) were given a coupon to redeem for a cable if we ever buy a compatible phone.

Steve Bush

After the goodie frenzy, everyone settled in to listen to Ben Waldman, Vice President of
Microsoft’s Mobile Devices Division talk about the future of mobile devices. Ben was an engaging speaker and seemed to really know his stuff. I came away thinking that Microsoft has a
pretty clear vision, and will most likely achieve it.

Next came the fun stuff… We torn into our HP 548 boxes and started the installation process.
Right off the bat, we ran into permission problems with Windows 2000 and some
licensing problems with Outlook 2000. I felt embarrassed for the Pocket PC team but they took the glitches good heartedly. After the problems were solved, everyone began syncing email, programs and even MP3 files to their new devices.
One of the pins on my HP cradle somehow got bent which caused it not work. Later
I found out that several people had this problem during the session. Is this a
common defect?

Derek Brown and Beth Goza gave demonstrations on the different aspects of the operating system. The PIM functions were unfortunately pretty much skipped over in favor of demoing the MP3 Player, Video Player, Book Reader, Pocket IE and other more flashy features. I think they should have spent a bit more time on the PIM functions
as well as Pocket Word, and Excel. 

We were given a working lunch (you call this work?) where we could play with the devices. Next
we heard an interesting talk about the Microsoft Stinger Phone. The Stinger is going to be a new smart phone that runs a Pocket PC-like OS, and has a large mono or color display. We were shown the phone but couldn’t play with it. πŸ™ Microsoft actually manufactured the hardware for the beta units. The phone was
surprisingly small. Pricing wasn’t discussed in detail but I seem to recall that
$300-$400 was thrown out as a potential price point.

We were also shown some wireless Pocket PC technology that is available now. The Sierra Wireless
AirCard PC Card. One of the speakers had the iPAQ with the PC Card sleeve and this wireless card. He was having a bit of trouble getting a good connection
in the room we were in but we did see him surf the web a bit and attempt to do instant messaging. I personally find the wireless features to be the most exciting.

A short question and answer period followed. Beth and Derek really seemed interested in what we had to say. I think they also realized that we were
power users and our wants/needs might not be the same as a typical PDA user. 

Next, we all loaded up on the bus again for a quick tour of the Microsoft campus and then the Microsoft Company store. We were allowed to buy some items at company prices which was great. I was able to get Windows ME and PhotoDraw 2000. πŸ™‚

John Chow of Techzone.com and Jeff Kirvin
of Writing On Your Palm

Eric Levine, Steve Bush, Dave Johnson and Rick Broida

We then went back to the hotel to freshen up and decompress for a few minutes. After that, we were back on the bus headed to downtown Seattle to the
Music Experience Project. This was a very cool
restaurant/club/museum/interactive exhibit place. We first had dinner (great food) and then we (Calvin Parker, Tim Warner,
Michael Steinberg and I) wandered around exploring everything. a live Latin band
played music, private booths with various instruments beckoned the curious, PC lab areas with interactive multimedia music
encyclopedias waited for the studious and rock and roll memorabilia was displayed for
viewing. A special handheld computer system called MEG (Music Exhibit Guide) allowed people to take their own self-guided tours thru the displays.
We were told that although these units were not Pocket PCs that they did run a
form of Windows CE. We even stumbled across a virtual thrill ride that let us ‘get the funk’. All in all it was a really fun night.

Franco Martinez, Jim McCarthy, Arthur Hagen and Steve Sande

Instrument sculpture

At the end of the night we were taken back to the hotel where we said goodbyes to our great hosts Beth and Derek.
I flew back home the next morning while quite a few people stayed on to enjoy a free
Saturday in Seattle. My trip home was much less stressed than the previous. I love
Skycap! πŸ™‚ I had a window seat on the way home and snapped this picture of Mt. Rainer.

My parting thoughts concerning the whole trip:
It was a great time and I’d do it again in a second. I bet there are a lot of people out there that might be thinking that Microsoft was trying to bribe us with their gifts. I really don’t feel this way. I think they gave us everything needed to
truly use a Pocket PC to it’s full potential. They wanted us all to get excited about the devices, go home and use them. If some of us decide to switch to using a Pocket PC as our main PDA then they will have done their job and hope that we will write / talk about our experiences with their products. Do I think that everyone in the group was
assimilated? No. A couple people seemed like they were eager to switch though. This trip refueled my interest in the Pocket PC. I had recently left the iPAQ to go back to the Palm IIIc. Right now I’m reviewing the Casio EM-500 and am feeling excited again about using this platform. I really think that Microsoft is headed in the right direction. If they continue to listen to power users and typical users I think they will continue to make strides in
molding the Pocket PC into a platform to respect and for Palm to fear

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