QUtilities app for handhelds makes a silk purse out of WinCE's sow's ear

QUtilities app for handhelds makes a silk purse out of WinCE's sow's ear

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff


Compaq Computer Corp. has tackled substantial flaws in the Microsoft Windows CE operating system to make its Aero handheld computers more useful and usable.

Although the monochrome Aero 1500 can compete ounce for ounce against the Palm handheld from Palm Computing Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., I never had a problem with the 1500's size. I did, however, intensely dislike its OS.

In comparison reviews conducted by the GCN Lab, devices running WinCE have lost points compared with those running Palm OS. Compaq's engineers now have leveled the playing field via free software, QUtilities. The software can be downloaded from the Web for old and new Compaq handheld devices.

WinCE's main flaw'like that of the mythical Ouroboros snake'is that it eats its own tail. Programs stay open when the user switches to other programs. Closing them is a fairly difficult process.

After a time, WinCE devices run out of available memory and either refuse to open new programs or crash. You can't rely on a handheld's limited memory to drive multiple programs, and the problem gets worse when you have no idea what's still running.

Digging out a color version, the Aero 2130, from the post-review pile, I charged its batteries and synchronized it with one of the lab's test computers. Setup of the new OS download was a breeze.

With Close All Tasks, a user no longer needs to worry about crashes from too many open programs, as with WinCE.

To get the QUtilities program, point your browser to www.compaq.com and find the handheld devices section. The program downloads to a PC hard drive.

Speedy port

When you connect an Aero and run the program, it downloads the new software to the handheld in about five minutes, depending on the speed of the serial port. Then you press the Aero's reset key to enable the new software.

I twice saw a message telling me to press the reset button to continue and thought the download was not completed properly. A message stating that the program has downloaded successfully but needs a reset to take effect would have been less confusing.

Once I reset the Aero, I was treated to a surprise: The backlit display had increased from 256 colors to 16 million. Apparently the upgrade also increased the screen's color capacity. It would not be a huge boost for most business applications, but I can now look at photographs on the Aero, whereas before they were washed out.

Big red

The most noticeable difference in the OS is a giant red Q that appears on the task bar. When you tap the Q, the QUtilities program menu activates.

Box Score '' ' ' '''''


Free software upgrade
for Compaq handhelds

Compaq Computer Corp.; Houston;

tel. 281-370-0670

Price: Free download

+Closes programs to keep Windows CE from crashing

+Adds fully functional file utility

'Works only with Compaq handhelds

Real-life requirements:

PC and Web connection for download

At the top of the menu bar is the most useful component, and it's appropriately the easiest to find.

When you click on the choice marked Close All Tasks, the utility shuts down every program running and takes you to the main WinCE menu.

At last, there's no more need to worry about a crash from too many open programs. Another option lets you Close Active Task'for example, close the scheduler after a new appointment is entered. This workaround contributes mightily to making WinCE more functional.

In addition to closing programs, QUtilities has an option called File Explorer. It brings up a menu that looks like the Windows 98 file menu complete with a directory tree and folders.

You can move files from folder to folder by dragging them along, just as you would on a desktop system.

There's even an option to look at network files, assuming the Aero is synchronized with a networked PC.

With QUtilities, Compaq has done what Microsoft Corp. didn't: It has made WinCE functional. Aero users no longer have to trade off a good OS to get pocket portability. I believe the new system is even easier to use than the Palm OS, and Compaq is giving it away to all Aero users.

This is one Aero that is on target to capture the hearts of handheld users.

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