MWC 2009: Windows Mobile 6.5 unveiled by Microsoft in Barcelona

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Late last week, in a small office near Holborn, Microsoft showed Tech Digest Windows Mobile 6.5, and shared its vision for smartphones that the company hopes will combat Apple’s growing appetite for the sector.

At the opening of Mobile World Congress today in Barcelona, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the company’s new mobile OS to the world. The new features are split 50:50 between interface and usability.

Let’s talk usability first. Microsoft’s stated goal with Windows Mobile is to make things take fewer clicks to do. Instead of clicking five times from a locked handset to reading your email, the company wants to minimise the hassle.

The next version of Windows Mobile will feature a brand new home screen, lock screen and a fresh look to the interface that echoes Vista and Windows 7. The home screen looks remarkably Zune-y, which is unsurprising given the praise heaped upon Microsoft’s MP3 player’s interface, and the recent integration of the Zune team into Windows Mobile.

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The phone-is-locked screen will now allow you to unlock straight to specific applications, allowing you to move from a locked phone straight to email, text messages, voicemail, calendar and missed calls with one movement.

The look and feel of the software has been upgraded too. There’s more colour scattered around, and the scroll bars match the feel of the desktop version of the OS, rather than echoing Windows 3.1 as they did previously.

Lastly there’s a redesigned start menu – instead of a drop-down list, you now get a honeycomb of different applications. Microsoft claims that a series of hexagons makes the best use of the space, but I rather suspect that the redesign is more about making the product more visually distinct – something that Windows Mobile has always struggled with.

So how about new features? Well, there’s the previously-talked about “Skymarket”, which is now called Windows Marketplace. That will bring the 20,000 applications developed for Windows Mobile into one central place to better combat Apple’s App Store.

Microsoft told Tech Digest that it won’t exercise as much editorial control over the contents of its app store. Applications that aren’t permitted in Apples store because they compete with things that Apple itself is trying to do, like browsers, will be welcomed with open arms into Windows Marketplace. Microsoft says that the bar for entry will be based on the quality of the code, not the content.

There’s also a new version of Internet Explorer – IE Mobile 6. This will feature increased performance and better rendering of desktop-sized pages. Microsoft says that having one of the oldest browsers on the market means that they’ve learnt a lot about how to make a browser. I think it’ll be interesting to see how it compares with Fennec and Opera.

Lastly, Microsoft’s unveiled a service called “My Phone” that will act as a cloud backup of your contacts, photos, calendar items, mail and documents. It may launch sooner than the main OS, and grant a rather measly 200MB of data initially.

It’ll be free, but Microsoft suggested that more storage might be available at a price, for syncing music collections and the like. Needless to say, you’ll need to decide for yourself whether your data package is adequate for syncing photos and music, but anyone should be able to sync contacts and other text-based data.

The handset where we saw all this in action – an HTC Touch Pro, not a slow phone – crawled in the demonstration, so it looks like Microsoft still has a lot of optimisation to do before Windows Mobile 6.5 is ready for primetime. The OS is due in Q4 2009, so there’s still time, but let’s hope that Microsoft applies some of its learnings from Vista to Windows Mobile, and doesn’t release a product that’s too weighty for its own good.

Sandisk reveals one-button-backup USB flash drives

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Now that flash memory has got to a price competitive with mechanical storage, we’re starting to see it crop up in all sorts of places. One of those places is backup, where the speed of the memory presents a clear advantage over a traditional disk drive.

With that in mind, Sandisk has brought out a new backup-focused USB drive, which is the first in the world to work its magic with just a button press – no software installation needed. The capacities aren’t huge yet – the biggest is 64GB – but that should cover the contents of ‘My Documents’ for the vast majority of consumers.

The SanDisk Ultra Backup will go on sale in April, and cost between $40 (£28) and $200 (£137) depending on the size you plump for. How big is your “My Documents” folder? How about when you don’t include the porn? Let us know in the comments.

Sandisk Press Release

Related posts: MicroSD just got bigger – 16GB SanDisk MicroSDHC for £44.99 | SlotMusic – albums on SD cards from SanDisk

Buffalo launches BitTorrent-friendly LinkStation Quad: up to 4TB of storage

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Buffalo has really pushed the boat out with its latest high capacity hard drive. The LinkStation Quad can store up to four terabytes of data, be that multimedia, backup, or other data, and allows web access to those files plus media streaming to an iPhone.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a built-in BitTorrent client which allows files to be downloaded directly to the device, after configuring from a PC control panel, without the need for other computers to remain powered up. How quickly can you fill up four terabytes?…

LaCie intros "Internet Space" networked hard drive

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I love the concept of accessing my home media files from a mobile device while on the road, but the downside (particularly in these eco-conscious, penny-watching times) is that the computer being accessed has to be powered on.

For those feeling a bit guilty about that, but still wanting to be able to view their hilarious home videos, or the latest Dido album, while out-and-about, here’s a nifty solution from LaCie.

The “Internet Space” is a network hard disk which can be accessed from the Internet even if all the home computers are switched off. Using LaCie’s HipServ technology, users can connect to the drive by visiting HomeLaCie.com and authorising themselves…

Macworld 2008: Apple launches Time Capsule wireless backup system

apple_time_capsule.jpgSteve Jobs today announced a new hardware and software combo designed to make backing up multiple Macs over a wireless network as painless as possible.

The Time Capsule hardware is a revamped 802.11n Wi-Fi base station (Airport Extreme) with a built in server grade hard drive with either 500GB or 1TB capacity.

Introduced by Jobs as a much more convenient way of backing up notebook Macs (no-one wants the hassle of connecting cables to an external hard drive, he said) but usable by any OS X Leopard-equipped Macs.

Software-wise, it utilises the Time Machine functionality introduced in Leopard.

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