The History of Windows CE:
Windows CE 1

 

With the new development project underway, and the lessons of the past under their belts. The Pegasus team started working on a completely new system. Out of the WinPad project Pegasus took the overall aspirations brought by the hardware design, and completely abandoning the code in favour of the newer and far superior 32-bit technologies that Microsoft were developing elsewhere.
Code from the Pulsar project (already Win32) was carried forward into the new group. The Pulsar RISC code (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) and Kernel were taken up by the group, and combining the labours of the original groups together work rapidly began on creating a new Operating System.

Microsoft Pegasus Beta Logo

Testing of the Pegasus groups output began in early 1995, under the project code name of Windows Pegasus. Pegasus was to be used on the new lines of mobile device running on specially designed hardware. Crucially the hardware requirements would be very strict. OEM's had to comply with the established guidelines. This meant that special low power hardware was mandatory. Even with 32-bit Processors these demands solved the Battery problems experienced with WinPad.

Microsoft created a reference platform specification, which the Pegasus group saw to be the ideal format for the new device. This specification was sent to the seven hardware partners signed up to produce the hardware for the new Windows operating system. The Pegasus Reference Platform dictated that all devices must be:

  • A pocket form factor; size should not exceed 18x10x2.5 cm (7x4x1 in)
  • Power supplied by two AA batteries
  • Weigh less than 500g (1 pound)
  • QWERTY keyboard containing standard keys Ctrl, Alt and Shift)
  • LCD touch screen display of 480x240 pixels with 4 grayscales and 2 bits per pixel
  • Stylus to use like a mouse on the touch screen
  • Minimum of 4 MB of ROM
  • Minimum of 2 MB of RAM with a redundant power source
  • HPSIR compatible Infrared port
  • RS-232 Serial port
  • PCMCIA slot
  • Built-in audio output device
  • Run on the SuperH 3, MIPS 3000 or MIPS 4000 processor architecture

Pegasus was also to be considerably more advanced then even consumer versions of Windows that succeeded it. Pegasus was to be a multifunction, multi-region device. To do this Microsoft needed to ensure that it had the power to expand and adapt to different markets.
In making use of 32-bit processor technologies and enforcing the universal use of Unicode data through the Operating system (Unicode stores character information using a minimum of 2-bytes (16 bit's) instead of 1-bytes as with ASCII) they could ensure that the new platform could be used anywhere in the world, in any language.

21 months after the Pegasus Group was founded, in September 1996. 6 OEM developers (Casio were the first to begin consultation on the project, followed by Compaq, HP, LG Electronics (for Hitachi), NEC, and Philips) had been signed up - based on the merits of the work carried out up to the fourth Beta release - to create devices based around the Pegasus system and the newly christened Windows CE 1.0 was Released To Manufacturing (RTM).

 

Windows CE 1.0

In November 1996 Handheld PC's (H/PC) rapidly started entering production. With only the NEC MobilePro 200 and the Casio A-10 readily available at the time of launch, the bulk of devices such as the hp 300LX series and the Velo 1 range of H/PC's appeared in early to mid 1997.
This CE 1.0 release heralded the timid beginning or Microsoft's entry into the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market, although at this time Microsoft were wary of calling the new devices a true PDA. The Pegasus group were concerned that the form factor of a PDA being a "pocketable" device was too well ingrained into the consumer psyche. They also were all too aware of the problems experienced by Apple with the Newton release, which, despite finding a niche had failed to captivate or inspire the consumer with its keyboard-less, and legendarily unreliable handwriting input system.
In an effort to capture the high ground from it's competition and distance its new product from the established PDA and Notebook markets the new release was to be billed as a "PC Companion".

Marking what would be the start of a recurring trend, Hewlett Packard elected to buck the established restrictions and pushed for a modified hardware specification. hp felt that releasing a Windows CE device with a smaller device and screen footprint than their existing MS-DOS based 'LX' PDA range would be detrimental, proving especially problematic in luring the large numbers of existing LX users into the Windows CE marketplace.
Hp remodelled the Handheld PC to closer match the winning formula they had found from the popular 200LX. Widening and thinning down the chassis compared to other manufacturer's offerings so that an extra 160 pixels could be included on the screen. Microsoft's original specification dictated that devices use 480x240 pixels, where as the new 300LX from hp would use VGA width and Half VGA height, giving a mobile experience similar to that of many desktops of the time.

The 640x240 or 'HVGA' screen specification proved to be the winning formula for hp. Once again electing to call upon their own experience, rather than Microsoft 'PC Companion' initiative. Hp marketed the 300LX to the consumer market as their so named 'Palmtop PC'. The moved pushed them out in front of the competition and into a long standing relationship as the standard bearer of what a true Handheld PC was meant to be.
The specification changes introduced by hp proved to be so popular that no devices running on the original 480x240 screen size were released for the Windows CE 2.0 run. HVGA had become the de facto standard for all Windows CE Handheld PC devices, and for many users still remains the preferred size for the H/PC.

 

Windows CE 1.01

Windows CE 1.01 (aka 1.0a) was an incremental update and localisation release for the PDA hungry Japanese market.
Given the intrinsic difficulties in localisation for the Asian market, Microsoft were slow off the mark with realising the urgency for penetrating the Japanese market place with a Windows branded device. By the time Microsoft were able to finalise Windows CE 1.01, ready OEM partners and release their first Japanese device, it was the summer of 1997. The move failed dismally as the industry saw the already shaky release as being too little, too late.
In the 10 months from the initial release date of the English version of CE 1.0 in November 1996, global consumers were well aware of the shortcomings of Windows CE 1, and Microsoft had made no secret of the fact that they had learnt significantly from the Western language releases - people knew that Windows CE 2.0 was on the horizon. When the Handheld PC's was finally seen in the Japanese markets, it was widely expected that the release would be insignificant, and one month later, in the November of 1997 Microsoft unveiled Windows CE Mercury (2.0), spelling the end of the inaugural version of Windows CE.

 

Windows CE 1.0 was plagued with interpretability problems. In the October of 1996, just weeks before the first Windows CE 1.0 devices hit the market place, Microsoft refreshed its flagship Office suite. The new Office 97 included Outlook, a new, unified, Personal Information Management application designed to rival the dominant Lotus releases. When the first devices shipped only weeks later, the H/PC Explorer 1.0 sync client had not been modified to address the new API format for Outlook, and so could offer synchronisation only with the existing Schedule+ personal scheduler application found in Office 95. Users had to wait until the March of 1997 until they received the H/PC Explorer 1.1 release, which provided support for Outlook, hindering the adoption of both Outlook and the H/PC.
The Handheld PC was likewise hurt by the lack of support for third party PIM and email services. With the majority of corporations still relying on cc:Mail, MS Mail, Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino, and a stubbornness from Microsoft on providing support to anything other than its own PC PIM client - that exists to this day - the much coveted corporate market was less than impressed, with few interested in migrating to Outlook so soon after its release to take the plunge.

Microsoft's resolute attempt to intertwine the H/PC with Outlook as an attempt to encourage adoption undoubtedly did more damage to the release of both product lines than good. Where Microsoft left off, inexorably developer ingenuity was to follow, and by March 1997, Pumatech had readied its own sync client for the 1.0 release, which included, amongst others, IBM Lotus Organiser synchronisation support.

Despite the release of an Emulation SDK in the Windows CE Platform Toolkit's, which was designed to tempt developers to take up the challenge of programming for the H/PC, without the hardware overheads. The development community was slow to pick up on the tools. Requiring the expensive Visual Studio 97 Visual Basic 5 or Visual C++ 5 Professional, and then additional Windows CE modules to be purchased on top of that, efforts by Microsoft to push the platform received a lukewarm response.

Events and circumstances had conspired to see the Windows CE 1.0 release occur in a less than idea environment, and for this the first release of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system would be a short lived one.
On September 29, 1997, not even 12 months after CE 1 was released. The Microsoft Corporation officially announced the end of the road for the first generation companion device, and heralded the release of Windows CE 2.0.
All in all around half a Million H/PC units running Windows CE 1 were sold to the public from the November of 1996 until it was succeeded by CE 2.0 with its active desktop look and feel.

 

Windows CE 1.0x Release History

There were two incarnations of Windows CE 1.

  • CE 1.0 (Pegasus; 16th November 1996; Windows CE Gold... the beginning of a journey)
  • CE 1.01 (25th June 1997; Japanese Language Update)

 

Windows CE 1's Host PC Synchronisation software, Handheld PC (H/PC) Explorer was developed also under the codename Pegasus. H/PC Explorer was originally named Pegasus Manager during the beta process, but was renamed once the term Handheld PC had been adopted for marketing purposes.
Pegasus was the first in a long line of mythological code names given to Windows CE related development projects within Microsoft. For more on the lineage of Handheld PC Explorer 1.x click here.

 

Now-a-days finding software, information and other such Windows CE 1 related web sites is very hard to do. The official Microsoft Web site doesn't seem to recognise the existence of any mobile device operating system before that of CE 2.10.

With no warranties left, and the manufacturers who sold us their CE 1 products, full of promise now telling us their is nothing that they can do to help it falls to the Internet community to keep the vision of CE 1 alive. Not to let it die and become lost in the confides of time like Win NT 3.1 was.

There is still life left CE 1

Windows CE 1.0 Screenshots | Windows CE 1.01 Screenshots | Handheld PC Device List

 

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