Semper Mobilis--Marines test Windows CE for battle

During Gates' keynote speech, Marine Corps Maj. James C. Cummiskey of Camp Pendleton, Calif., said the Corps has tested the Microsoft Windows CE 1.0 operating system on what he called Marine-resistant handheld computers.

The Corps used the portables last summer to feed near real-time situational data to troops over wireless intranets.

Gates himself promoted the month-old Windows CE 2.0, the only operating system he could talk about at Comdex, because Microsoft has postponed its Windows 95 and Windows NT updates until 1998.

"The fundamental premise in the Marine Corps is that everything exists to get that sweaty Marine across the field," said Cummiskey, whose personal motto is Semper Mobilis--Always Mobile.

"By pushing critical information down, we give that Marine who's struggling to get on top of that hill a fighting chance," he said.

During Kernel Blitz '97--an amphibious war exercise in which 26,000 Marines and Navy sailors took part--one battalion used 28 handheld computers running Windows CE to receive orders via a wireless LAN from officers using notebook computers.

The handhelds were Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 320LX and Casio Inc.'s Cassiopeia A-11. Each has 4M of RAM and weighs about 13 ounces. Officers used a dozen Panasonic Personal Computer Co. CF-25 ruggedized notebooks.

The Corps spent an estimated $125,000 on the CE setups, the CF-25s, cases, digital cameras and wireless LAN products, Cummiskey said. All the units ran e-mail and stripped-down versions of Microsoft's Excel and Word applications.

The infantry officer showed off his own handheld, an off-the-shelf unit customized with a camouflaged, waterproof, thermal-blanket case. He said a nickel-metal hydride battery keeps the cellular modem running up to six hours.

The Marines' battlefield mapping application relies on Windows CE's built-in Pocket Internet Explorer browser and Defense Department Global Positioning System satellites. Maps show the positions of each friendly unit and each Marine.

Cummiskey said he chose handhelds that run Windows CE for Kernel Blitz instead of Apple Computer Inc. Newton MessagePads to avoid having to adapt the application for two operating systems.

In one Comdex simulation, Cummiskey's unit came under fire. He clicked on the screen where he guessed the enemy was hiding. The application passed the information to higher levels and other units in the area to coordinate an attack. Then it fed back basic tactical information such as distance and bearing.

"Knowing where you are, where the enemy is, and being able to call fire on him--all that is really important to us," Cummiskey said.

Several DOD organizations have taken notice of handheld computing, Cummiskey said. The Marine Corps' Warfighting Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Naval Command, Control and Ocean Surveillance Center are all doing a bottom-up review of data and communication needs of the individual soldier and commander, he said.

He said he expects the Marine Corps to adopt the color display and connectivity options in Windows CE 2.0, which will arrive soon on new handhelds such as the C-Series handheld from Compaq Computer Corp. CE 2.0's built-in applications will be Pocket versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

Formerly the PC Companion, the C-Series handheld has an integrated modem and monochrome or color 640- by 240-pixel display with double-bright backlighting. Compaq will ship it early in 1998.

Other handheld PC makers are HP, Casio and NEC Computer Systems Division.

For more information about Windows CE, visit http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce.

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