META Report:Pocket PC 2002

Microsoft has also improved remote manageability features on the Pocket PC with an eye to the needs of corporate users; among the additions are hooks for security software. PDAs face two important security challenges. First, like desktop computers, they are vulnerable to virus and worm attacks – though so far, only a few minor attacks have materialized. However, by their nature, they are less susceptible to data loss than desktop systems, because PDA users back up their data to desktops (and, if they are wise, from there to a server or removable media) regularly to guard against file corruption, battery failures, and other events that put data on PDAs in general at risk. Therefore, users can always wipe the memory of their PDA and reload their last backup if a virus does attack. Although some antivirus software has appeared for Palm (Symantec), we see this as a fairly low-risk situation.

The second – and larger – danger is theft or loss of PDAs that contain sensitive corporate data. This is not new – laptops have been stolen or left behind in the past, and even desktop PCs have been known to disappear from offices overnight. However, PDAs in general are much more susceptible to loss and theft because of their small size. The main protection approach against this problem is encryption of the data on the unit and/or removable data storage (e.g., CompactFlash). Although several solutions are available for both the Pocket PC and Palm platforms (e.g., Certicom), so far few users have encrypted their PDAs because of the inconvenience. We do not expect this to change until such encryption is forced on users by enterprise policies.

User Action: Although Pocket PC 2002 devices can replace laptops for the minority with limited needs on the road (e.g., access to e-mail and form-based access and entry to some enterprise applications), for most mobile users this will still be a companion device rather than a replacement for a laptop.

The growth in the number of Pocket PC makers can enable enterprises to play one off another to get the best deals when planning to roll out PDAs to parts of their user populations. However, before they start such a program, companies must establish clear policies on how they will support use and what use is permitted.

Companies that have standardized on Microsoft environments (e-mail, development, etc.) will find a closer affinity to the Pocket PC than to Palm PDAs, and with its greater processing power, expandability, and connectivity options, we expect enterprises to move in greater numbers to Pocket PC and away from Palm devices. Also, enterprises will be much more comfortable working with a large enterprise supplier, such as Compaq or Hewlett-Packard, than a small, less financially stable vendor, such as Palm or Handspring.

META Group analysts Jack Gold, David Cearley, Ashim Pal, Peter Firstbrook, Jeffrey Mann, Val Sribar, and William Zachmann contributed to this article.