Today sees the 'official' launch of Microsoft's latest PDA (personal digital assistant) operating system, Pocket PC 2002. To coincide with this, handheld PC firms plan to unveil new devices running the software.

HP has already launched handhelds using the operating system. Today, Compaq, Symbol, Casio and Toshiba all followed suit.

Pocket PC 2002 is version two of Microsoft's handheld PC operating system. The company says it incorporates business users’ top enhancements requests.

Among the features new to Pocket PC 2002 are handwriting recognition, the ability to 'beam' information to devices running either Pocket PC or Palm's competing operating system, and support for virtual private networks.

HP is the only major vendor to reveal which of its handhelds will run Pocket PC 2002 prior to today’s launch. It unveiled its new Jornada 560 handheld series last month. The new Jornadas include more memory, longer battery life and weigh less than previous models.

Compaq, Symbol, Casio and Toshiba are among the other vendors planning to roll out devices from today. Besides using the Pocket PC 2002 operating system, they have another thing in common — Intel's 206MHz StrongARM processor.

Compaq is offering the iPaq Pocket PC H3700 and H3800 series, both of which feature 64MB of RAM. The H3700 is largely an upgrade from the H3600 for the new operating system, while the H3800 is completely new and features an SD (secure digital) memory card slot.

Two of Symbol existing devices - the PPT 2800 and PDT 8100 - will now feature colour screens and will run the Pocket PC operating system. The updated devices also feature built-in barcode scanning.

Casio unveiled the Cassiopeia E-200, which has a 3.5in colour TFT display, 64MB of RAM and both CompactFlash and SD card slots, as well as an optional PC Card unit.

Toshiba lifted the lid on its own PDA (personal digital assistant) today. The Toshiba Pocket PC e570 also has SD and CompactFlash slots built in, the company said. The e570 has 64MB of RAM and a battery life of up to eight hours, the company said.