This is a higly charged debate, not unlike Linux vs. Windows vs. MacOS or KDE vs. every other window manager. The offending party is usually called a simpleton or a soul-selling Gates-loving bastard. However, each operating system, as well as its accompanying hardware has its own advantages and disadvantages. In addition, these PDAs were created for different purposes; Microsoft's ideal is to have a PC in your pocket, while Palm touts these as easy-to use organizers as well as information access devices. The notable exception here is Sony, which tries to market its PalmOS-powered CLIE line of PDAs as entertainment devices. Thus, comparing the two platforms is often pointless, but I'll do it anyway to satisfy curious minds. In this node, while trying to be as objective as possible, I'll try to highlight the advantages of both platforms.

Pocket PC

First of all, before I go into full-fledged rant mode, don't dis the Pocket PC version of Windows CE 3 just because it's made by Microsoft, or because Window CE 2 sucked. In creating Windows CE 3, they made many improvements to the GUI, making it seem more "clean". So there's no more blatant mimicking of the Windows 95 GUI and no double-clicking. That being said, here are the advantages of Pocket PC's:

  • More powerful:
  • Most newer Pocket PC's run on a 32-bit 206 MHz StrongArm and have either 32 or 64 MB of RAM. On the other hand, PalmOS devices have either a 33 MHz DragonBall, or, for the Sony NR70, a 66 MHz one. RAM ranges from 8 to 16 MB. Many advantages, as well as some disadvantages, stem from this.
  • Better multimedia:
  • Due to the aforementioned capabilities as well as better sound support, PPC's can play a plethora of audio and video formats, including DivX, MPEG, MP3, WMA, and modules. Some PalmOS devices have built-in MP3 support, some don't. Even then, the player acts more like a stand-alone device, and the PDA can't use the sound hardware for anything else.
  • Better built-in software:
  • While PalmOS only comes with standard organizer programs (Datebook, to-do list), Pocket PC's also have Windows Media Player, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and Pocket Internet Explorer, which are vastly neutered, but still usable, versions of corresponding programs in Microsoft Windows/Office. That means less third party software to buy.
  • Real filesystem:
  • Unlike PalmOS's weird program/database system, WinCE uses a real (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's VFAT) filesystem. This means that you can sync files more easily with your (Windows-powered, of course) computer. For example, if you want to put a Word document onto your PPC, all you have to do is drag and drop; no conversion required. In addition, you can do cool things like making an HTML document with a text editor and then viewing it with Pocket IE. This, best to my knowledge, is impossible with PalmOS.
  • Multitasking:
  • Not really useful in a PDA, but at least it's there. The only good uses I can think of are quickly switching between programs and listening to music while doing something else. The Sony CLIE's MP3 player does the latter too, however, since the CPU itself doesn't actually have to do the MP3 decoding.
  • Gaming:
  • While PalmOS does have many fun and creative games, the PPC's power lets it win this area hands-down. In addition, ZioSoft makes a couple of (expensive) ports of PC games, such as SimCity 2000, Need for Speed, and Age of Empires. Other people have ported DooM and Quake I and II. In addition, there are many emulators available for platforms such as DOS, Apple II, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, NES, SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, and GBA.
  • Linux:
  • If you have an iPaq but hate the OS, you can dump WinCE from the flash ROM and install one of several GNU/Linux distros.


  • Simplicity:
  • This has been Palm's mantra for a while, and it dicates the platform's design. The OS is made to be as little bloated and as straightforward as possible. In fact, in normal menu navigation or organizer usage, it ends up feeling a bit faster despite the slower processor. In addition, many people have said that PalmOS's organizer programs are more easy to use and more powerful, and this is often the main reason why one gets a PalmOS PDA. PalmOS also seems to crash slightly less, but that varies depending on what programs you try to run.
  • Hardware:
  • While the PalmOS devices are less powerful when it comes to pure power, they do tend to be much smaller (ex. Palm V) and have longer battery life. In addition, the low-end devices tend to be cheaper; however, CLIE's such as the NR70 still cost an arm and a leg.
  • Software:
  • PalmOS tends to have better software, in terms of both quality and quantity. Much of it is very useful and not available for WinCE. However, WinCE does have the advantage of having some well-known open source programs (such as LaTeX and a watered-down version of Emacs.) Another advantage of PalmOS software is that it tends to be smaller; many PalmOS programs take up about 100KB, while most PPC programs take up anywhere from 400K to a couple of megabytes. This means more use of the limited memory as well as a smaller feeling of "bloat". Keep in mind, though, that the software produced for either platform is often very different and it is hard to make a direct comparison.
  • OS Support:
  • PalmOS is able to sync with MacOS and (best to my knowledge) any Unix-ish platform, while WinCE only syncs with Windows. So, if you don't use Windows, you don't have much of a decision. However, if your PPC has an SD or CF slot, you can interchange data with Linux using the appropriate memory card.

So basically, if you prefer something more along the lines of a portable PC (or something to play around with) and run Windows, then I'd recommend a Pocket PC. Otherwise, get a PalmOS-powered PDA. I'd also recommend that you head towards your nearest Best Buy to check both platforms out. You could also head to and to get a feeling of what software is available for either OS (remember, though, a lot of good software for both platforms is not featured on either website.)

This should be everything... /msg me if I got a fact wrong or if I should add something.

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