Microsoft faces Bluetooth dilemma
MICROSOFT FACES AN interesting dilemma following two decisions it made recently concerning its operating systems and Bluetooth, a wireless data-synchronization technology still mired in development.
By opting to support Bluetooth in its handheld OS and not its PC OS, Microsoft faces the prospect of leaving its handheld customers without a Windows PC or laptop for synchronization.
Microsoft's first decision a week ago was to pull its support from Bluetooth as a default utility in Windows XP, the company's newest operating system and the declared migration path for its PC and server Windows operating systems. Whereas part of Windows XP's hype is fueled by its readiness as a wireless platform, the Redmond, Wash.-based industry giant ruled against Bluetooth, with its XPBeta 1 barely out of the wrapper.
Officials cited a lack of "sufficient quantities of production-quality Bluetooth hardware" as the reason for the decision. "Microsoft cannot estimate when or how [Bluetooth] will be supported in Windows," a Microsoft representative said regarding XP.
Then this week Microsoft released Beta 1 of Talisker, the company's code name for its Version 3.0 of the Windows CE operating system. Surprisingly enough, Microsoft will support Bluetooth in CE, a solid-state OS that runs battery-enabled mobile devices, including cell phones, PDAs, and task-specific appliances such as set-top boxes.
Keith White, the senior director for the embedded and appliance platform group at Microsoft said the Bluetooth issue is different with CE and the devices it operates, as these devices require longer design cycles. Even if Microsoft has reservations about Bluetooth, waiting to put it in the hands of the CE camp is not a luxury the software giant can afford.
"The design cycles for [CE devices] average around 18 months," White said. "We really have to do things with [Bluetooth] and the OS that will allow developers to work in this time line."
The dilemma now for Microsoft is whether or not the company can ensure that Bluetooth-enabled CE devices will have Windows XP-based PC and laptop units with which to synchronize data when the CE devices begin to arrive in 2002, said Stacy Wu, an analyst at Mobile Insights in Mountain View, Calif.
Wu says Microsoft runs the risk of creating "end-user confusion" if customers have to start remembering which devices are Bluetooth-enabled and which are not.
With CE development of Bluetooth out of the gate ahead of XP, the most likely remedy will probably come in the form of a quick follow-up Bluetooth upgrade to Windows XP, Wu suggested.
"Microsoft needs to release another version of XP [with Bluetooth support] at the same time that the CE version, including the [CE] hardware, will hit the market," Wu said. "If you look at Microsoft's history, they do have a release of an [operating system] update [between] nine to 12 months after the first release, historically."
Microsoft declined to comment.
The decision by Microsoft not to support Bluetooth in Windows XP clears the way for immediate action by third-party Bluetooth vendors such as San Francisco-based Rappore Technologies.
"It is very typical for [an early technology] that the more nimble, smaller companies can support it faster," said Ken Ebert, a senior engineer at Rappore, which he co-founded. "We can support and deploy Bluetooth right now."
Microsoft expressed equal concern for the support of USB 2.0 in Windows XP, possibly opting to support Apple Computer's FireWire as its connecttion for high-speed peripherals such as video camcorders. USB 2.0, with its development near completion, is a next-generation USB connection.