Taiwanese computer maker Inventec is developing a low cost laptop that could run Windows Mobile 7 when the operating system is released (probably sometime next year). There are a few advantages to Windows Mobile over Linux or a full version of Windows. It’s cheaper to license than Windows and has lower hardware requirements. Windows Mobile devices can also typically turn on and off instantly and provide excellent battery life. But here’s the thing: Windows Mobile is an operating system designed for cellphones and PDAs, not computers. And I think anyone who buys a laptop running Windows Mobile will realize this pretty quickly.
The NEC MobilePro 790 was pretty awesome in terms of size and weight. It was portable enough to throw into any bag and forget about it, but it was large enough to feature a touch-typable keyboard. The HP Jornada 720, on the other hand was far too tiny to really touch-type on, but it had a significantly quicker processor than the MobilePro. (NEC eventually put out the MobilePro 900, with a relatively zippy 400MHz ARM CPU, but by that point, almost nobody was making software for handheld computers).
These handhelds could create and edit basic Office documents and browse web sites. But considering how much they looked like computers, they were significantly less versatile. I loved the instant on/off function, and the long battery life. But if you didn’t like the portable version of Internet Explorer (and pretty much nobody did), you were out of luck.
A few years after getting rid of my last Handheld PC I picked up an Asus Eee PC, and realized the reason I had never been thrilled with the older machines was becuase of the limitations of their operating systems. What I really wanted was a computer, not a glorified PDA. Even though there are better web browsers (Opera Mobile), word processors (Softmaker Office) and other applications for Windows Mobile than there were a few years ago, you never know if you’re going to be able to update your system to the next version of Windows Mobile when it’s released. And you never know if your favorite software will follow you if you can upgrade. And the software selection is still pathetically small compared to what you can find for Windows, Linux, or OS X computers.
At $299, the Inventec laptop will be significantly cheaper than the HP Jornada or NEC MobilePro were in their day. But when you can pick up a cheap Asus Eee PC for $250, it just doesn’t seem worth the money.