A few weeks ago, I’ve shared a post on the Texas Instruments CC-40 system, calling it an “unlucky computers”. The machines I will present today were really unsuccessful, so my comment on the CC-40 was maybe a bit unfair. Let’s get back to today’s misfits. It is 1996 and Bill Gates announces at COMDEX what was known as Pegasus (you can refresh your memory here via the MSJ archive here. What Microsoft was really trying to do was to create a standard for mobile devices.
Yet another one! This may remember some of you there – a bit more successful – attempts with MSX standards (in 1983). They released yet another set of hardware requirements that EOMs had to follow if they wanted to get the logo and run the embedded version of Windows (Windows CE). To be fair, it is not that handheld computers – or HPCs – were bad or useless devices. It is simply that they were way ahead of their time. In fact, if you look at the set of features these Lilliput PCs were packed with, you may find them very close to what our most advanced smartphones can offer us today. Of course, with technologies that date almost 20 years back. So to get the Logo and jump on the new standard’s bandwagon, EOMs had to build a mobile computers powered by a MIPS or SH processor (at least at the beginning), have 4 MB of ROM, a battery-backed RAM of at least 2MB (but even with 4, you could enjoy the rotating hourglass icon) and run on only 2 AA batteries.
Differentiation and added value could come from a bunch of recommended/optional features such as a wide touch LCD – back-lit if possible –, a true keyboard, PCMCIA, PC-Card, Modem, “audio”, IR, VGA, etc. A pretty impressive list actually. All of the early HPCs I own today had most of these features. Windows CE has evolved a lot during the following years and was relatively successful. I would gauge its success by the fact that you probably do not even know some of your devices, even today, are powered by a derivative of CE. Sure it will be replaced by RT will replace it, but in the field, such refresh may take a decade.
Another good sign of success to me is that when you search for a Win32 API in the MSDN, you can always find a reference to CE (5 or 6)! The HPCs, on the other hand, had no success at all. At least, they had the chance to die quickly! I really cannot recall a single successful CE HPC, except maybe the Hewlett-Packard 320LX. I would risk betting that you never heard about the SHARP HC-4100, the Goldstar H-120S or the Compaq 2930A. So if you didn’t, take a peek to the photos and videos of the post so you can judge by yourself if the extinction of these nice machines was well deserved or was unfair.