Microsoft has announced a new version of its software for PDAs today, which is poised to make Pocket PCs more attractive to users.

Called Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PCs, the software offers enhanced support for digital media and messaging as well as wireless connectivity using Bluetooth and wireless LAN (WLAN) technology. Also, developers can now use Visual Studio .Net to create applications for Pocket PC devices.

"With this new release, the focus is not on delivering a bunch of new features, but on refining the platform and some key technology areas," said Ed Suwanjindar, lead product manager at Microsoft's Mobile Devices Division.

Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PCs succeeds the Windows Powered Pocket PC 2002 software released in October 01. The upgrade represents the move from Windows CE 3.0 to Windows CE .Net 4.2 as the underlying operating system. Windows Mobile is a new brand Microsoft will use for its PDAs and mobile phones.

The update will mostly benefit enterprise PDA users, said Gartner analyst Todd Kort. Consumers won't notice much difference, he said.

"This release is more important to the IT guys because now they have more confidence that wireless is getting more support. For the consumer there is not that much to sink their teeth into except for the new media player," said Kort. "Some of the things that users are requesting are not in this release, such as landscape mode and higher resolution displays."

On the wireless front, a new Connection Manager allows devices with 802.11b WLAN hardware to detect WLANs that use the standard and makes connecting simple. The same goes for linking to devices using Bluetooth. In addition, connections to mobile phone data networks are now also kept alive if the device is set to standby, allowing users to continue to receive email and instant messages.

Enhanced messaging is also offered, especially in combination with Microsoft's forthcoming Exchange Server 2003 email platform. Users who are online can have their email automatically synchronised. Furthermore, when a user forwards an email message with an attachment, the attached file is forwarded from the server, not the PDA, eliminating the need to transfer files over narrow connections.

Improved entertainment features are provided in Windows Media 9.0, which is now part of the operating system. This offers improvements of audio and video quality. Using the Sync & Go feature in the Plus Digital Media Edition pack for Windows, it's possible to create photo albums on the desktop for viewing on the PDA and synchronise audio and video content.