NEW YORK - Microsoft Corp. unveiled Tuesday a new version of its Windows operating system for mobile devices that unifies the platform for cell phones and Pocket PC handheld computers while adding such features as PowerPoint viewing and internal hard drive support.
Windows Mobile 5.0, introduced by Chairman Bill Gates at the company's annual conference for mobile software developers, also adds support for the miniature typewriter keyboards that are increasingly common on mobile phones and organizers.
Other enhancements include updates to the mobile versions of Microsoft Word and Excel that better maintain the formatting of documents created on a computer and allow the creation of charts from a spreadsheet.
The elimination of distinct phone and PDA versions of the operating system puts Windows Mobile on the same page as rival mobile device platforms such as Symbian, BlackBerry and Palm.
It also marks another change of course in Microsoft's long-evolving strategy to extend the dominance of its Windows computer platform to mobile devices.
Those efforts began with a single platform based on Windows CE, short for consumer electronics, but then fragmented into three custom-made flavors: Pocket PC organizers, "smart" cell phones, and then Pocket PC's equipped with phones.
Now they're all being brought back under one roof, a move that may motivate developers to write more software applications for Windows Mobile since they won't need to create three different variations. Users with specific needs and interests can be drawn to a particular operating system if there are more customized applications, ranging from mobile business tools to video games.
The reunification also means certain capabilities previously available for only one of the two versions of Windows Mobile are now available for both phones and handhelds.
One of these is integrated support for Wi-Fi short-range wireless connections, now available for smart phones rather than just Pocket PCs. Another is so-called "persistent" memory storage, which preserves basic user information when a device's battery runs out of power. This capability was previously available for smart phones, but not Pocket PC's.
The updated version of Mobile Windows also serves as another example of Microsoft seeking to barge its way into a hot new sector where it's late to the party much as it responded to the Netscape Navigator Web browser with Internet Explorer and to the Palm Pilot with Pocket PC.
This time, by adding support for internal hard drives, Microsoft is enabling device makers to design phones and organizers with enough storage capacity to compete in the portable music player market dominated by the iPod from Apple Computer Inc.
Windows Mobile accounts for a tiny fraction of Microsoft's business. Combined, software revenue from mobile devices and consumer electronics totaled $80 million in the first three months of 2005. That was up 31 percent from a year earlier, but amounted to less than a tenth of Microsoft's overall revenue for the quarter.