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The Windows CE 1.0 public release happened 26 years ago today

Handheld PC News

Posted 2 months ago | News | Chris Tilley 8 comments

Microsoft Windows CE 1.0 Logo
It is the 17th of November once again and that means that Windows CE and the Handheld PC celebrates its latest birthday. Revealed to the world at COMDEX 96, Windows CE spawned 17 years’ worth of embedded device innovation from countless manufacturers across the world before its eventual retirement and replacement with the unified Windows kernel in 2013.

Microsoft could never find a true niche for Windows CE and failed to capture the market to any significant extent – something that has continued to plague the company away from the Desktop and small business server space for decades. No iteration of CE ever achieved the synonymity and market penetration of perhaps its better known modern cousins Android and Apple iOS. Yet every year those few of us who cared still mark the occasion and on this day wish Windows CE another Happy Birthday.
Posted on 17 November 2022 at 13:19By Chris Tilley (C:Amie)

Comments on this article

torch's Avatar torch 17 November 2022 3:00:03 PM
Happy birthday! The release really must have been rushed if it was only public in November! That makes more sense why everything was so half finished
takwu's Avatar takwu 21 November 2022 4:45:03 PM
Happy belated bday Win CE!

While I am typing this on an Android device today (on Edge browser with a microsoft on screen keyboard) I still remember the days of web browsing with my Jornada all the way to Windows Phone 7.

Lets celebrate!
pacmania1982's Avatar pacmania1982 08 December 2022 9:07:37 PM
I still have very fond memories of Windows CE 1.0 - mainly because my HP 300LX was never offered the upgrade due to it having such limited amounts of storage.

I remember watching this video on one of the PC Plus! cover CD's here in the UK: https://youtu.be/Z_kAp4ub4RU - I bought the CD a while ago as someone was selling it JUST for this video. Someone had posted it on YouTube a LONG time ago but it disappeared.
kurkosdr's Avatar kurkosdr 21 December 2022 3:00:45 PM
Do you have it at a higher resolution than 144p? Also even if you don't have it at a higher resolution, it's worth upscaling it to 1080p anyway before upload to avoid YouTube's brutal compression at sub-1080p resolutions.
pacmania1982's Avatar pacmania1982 30 December 2022 1:24:48 PM
No - that was the original video resolution provided on the CD. I've never seen it anywhere else, and the one that was already on YouTube was removed long ago.
C:Amie's Avatar C:Amie 12 December 2022 8:20:14 AM
@pacmania1982 interesting, I had never seen that before. Interesting how they avoided showing the programs menu. They clearly knew that they would be derided for its lack of cascade support, even then.
kurkosdr's Avatar kurkosdr 21 December 2022 3:29:18 PM
What plagued Windows CE from day 1 was that it was branded like Windows and looked like Windows but it wasn't Windows. Instead, Windows CE required apps made specifically for it, and most application vendors simply didn't bother. When I was a kid I initially wanted a Handheld PC with Windows CE 2.0 under the assumption it was actually a handheld PC, but then I learned that it needs special apps and that only Microsoft and a couple of other business vendors had bothered making special apps for it, and I lost interest. Microsoft lost an opportunity by not making Windows CE compatible with at least some win32 apps (and x86 exclusive obv).

Instead, PocketPC/Windows Mobile stood on its own merits and didn't pretend to be a tiny little PC (when it wasn't) and hence faired much better (especially if you take into account that most Symbian Nokia N-series phones were bought as feature phones and used as feature phones, which means the true market share of PocketPC/Windows Mobile among smartphones was even bigger). Really, what doomed PocketPC/Windows Mobile from achieving better penetration was the unavailability of mobile data which kept it tethered to a PC (this was the number#1 problem Apple fixed with smartphones when they launched the iPhone, they somehow convinced carriers to offer affordable access to the real internet and not only to some carrier-controlled "portal").
C:Amie's Avatar C:Amie 21 December 2022 8:16:45 PM
@kurkosdr I can see where you are coming from, however I do not agree. The H/PC was sold as a companion. It was never implied that it could run x86. The idea that a 200MB Windows NT 4 install that would be necessary to support Win32 could be shoehorned down into a ROM chip in 1996 was a commercial dead-end. If they had done it, the £800 asking price would have been £2000.

I don't think that the intended audience was under the impression that it was anything else.

Microsoft's fatal and ultimately unrecoverable error (aside from CE 1.0 being unfinished) was charging for the development tools - charging an astronomical sum for them. A $2500 USD compiler software barrier to entry + a new WinCE API + abysmal documentation + needing two $1000 USD 480x240 devices (one in MIPS and one in SH3) and then again once the screen size changed to 640x240. There were very few firms willing to fork out that level of capital investment.
Palm OS on the other hand had commercial and open source tools and a lot of third party language compiler support. This meant that right from the release of the Palm Pilot, hobbyists were tinkering with it. Picking up their £500 devices and innovating in the ecosystem. CE never had this.

Even with Microsoft back-tracked and released free IDE tools for the Palm-Sized PC, they were deemed second-rate next to the "proper" way to do it in visual studio and on top of this, they were overly complicated. CE 1 and 2 support was dropped from the free tools, closing up developers from using the new accessible, cheap older devices to innovate against. Further, information on the API and how to code was poorly documented and hard to come by - even in 1999. If you didn't go out and spend £70 on Douglas Boiling's book and already know Win32, you weren't gong to be coding for CE. You were constantly battling Microsoft's decisions.

To this day, starting to code for a H/PC is an absolute nightmare. Exactly as it was 26 years ago.
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