Fail of the Week: WinCE is a Noun and a Verb

A few years ago, [localroger] found some incredible hardware on sale: a very tiny laptop with a seven-inch screen, full keyboard, trackpad, Ethernet, WiFi, USB (with support for a lot of HID devices), and a battery that would last hours. They were on sale for $30 USD, and [localroger] bought four of them. A great deal, you say? These machines ran Windows CE. No, owning a WinCE device is not the Fail of the Week.

Figuring he should do something with these machines, [roger] thought, ‘a clock will do’, and began to figure out how to program or write an app for these things. These tiny netbooks did come with a programming language, JavaScript, in the form of the built-in IE6 web browser. This was actually a really, really good solution – WinCE apps formatted for portrait displays just didn’t work with the ‘widescreen’ laptop, and a hand-coded HTML table is probably the best solution anyone could have hoped for.

These machines – [roger] used three of them over the years as alarm clocks – did their job well, even if NTP had been left out of the OS image. The real fail here comes from buying a $30 WinCE netbook, and using it for something as mission critical as an alarm clock. The displays burned in, the batteries began puffing up, one unit somehow wouldn’t allow IE to run (probably a bad Flash chip), and the trackpad in another one sent the cursor on a random walk. You get what you pay for.

These WinCE netbooks have finally been put out to pasture, hopefully the same one laser printers go to. It’s all for the best, though; [roger] made a much better alarm clock with Nixies.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every now and again. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

36 thoughts on “Fail of the Week: WinCE is a Noun and a Verb

    1. They run a wierd chipset so you would have to completely roll your own linux install and then build a Jtag to load it to the flash chip holding the OS. and then reverse engineer the drivers. Far cheaper to buy a standard $199 laptop than screw around with one of these. I know I went down the same road but was more sane, I bought only one of them and ended up using it for target practice as they are complete junk

  1. I have one, put Linux on it (android?) …
    Now I’ll have to dig it up to see what I done, info is on the net to convert them. I purchase the net book from Fri’s…
    winblows ce. was use less, no youtube useability web surfing generally blew chow…
    Ifixyea or some site like that had links to an image file, I remember reading it has a touch screen, but no drivers…
    Model synet07526 — Yea change opsystem an convert from a fail…

    Kcim aka. napervillian


    1. I believe you are the only one, yes. WinCE is and has always been utter shit, but back when we didn’t have Android it was the only reasonably usable system for super-low-power systems like these. I have a Nec 900C that runs it; I use it to write, and couldn’t really imagine using it for anything else.

      Coincidentally, the Wondermedia netbooks can run Android (Froyo, I think) if you find a suitable image and the flashing tools. Using Android without a touchscreen is about as elegant as you’d expect, but a lot of current apps still work on old versions of it, so getting a proper alarm clock running would be just a matter of finding a compatible app – presumably not hard since the PlayStore is flooded with alarm clocks.

      A lot of them can run Debian too, but the hardware is *really* weak, so getting anything done in it is probably an exercise in patience.

  2. Old WinCE can run .NET v1.1 framework apps. – You may need to install the .NET Framework on it first, depending on the version of CE you have. Once you’ve got the framework on, you can build your app using VB.NET or C# in Visual Studio (has to be Version 2003 or earlier), and copy it over – it’ll run without issue. I know, coz I’ve done it on several obscure WinCE ‘tablets’ in the past.

  3. Wince should have been a corporate fail of the year, I remember it back from the days of ipaq ownership with a 3870, and occasionally someone wants to use it on a cabinet security system or other products and have to be politely told to go away and reengineer their product. The familiar linux from was much better, until the community was destroyed by some shenannigans and somebody causing hassle on the mailing lists by the name of ohhh what was it, florian mueller, LONG before he outed himself as a microsoft shrill…
    My last brush with it was on a 2014 clio for the media computer setup which renault wanted a insane amount for a map update on and yet the car came without any because the first owner (Hertz) wiped them when they defleeted them. I reflashed with someone elses work to make it useable (MenaVryus firmware) rather than committing most of my time to breaking it.
    For the people saying install something else on it, you dont realize how much of a pain that is if there is no distribution where someone has done all the hard work for you until you have done similar, sometimes life is a little short to reinvent the wheel for every single thing that crosses your path. You take something on and weeks or months into it, you end up with it half or mostly working at best and incredibly frustrated, and meanwhile the people who made such device who could assist do everything in their power to block your progress as it means you do not have to skip it and buy the latest shiny from them instead. Its easier to just buy openish hardware with better support when you can.

    1. Microsoft and Sega had a brief relationship trying to bring the WinCE OS to the Dreamcast. I’m not clear on if it was preinstalled, used by some games, or what. The history is kind of unclear to me. However, there’s a WinCE sticker on the DC console, at least : )

      1. Sega licensed WinCE for the Dreamcast to encourage developers to port their games to the system. The reasoning behind it being that the APIs would be more familiar. It wasn’t very popular as the extra layer made games much slower and you’d need to heavily modify your code to fit into the Dreamcast memory anyway.

      2. WinCE wasn’t built into the Dreamcast console. It was on the GD-ROM discs of the games that used it, booting off the disc and customized for each game. AFAIK nobody ever made a general purpose WinCE disc for the Dreamcast. If the DC had received a hard drive addon then such a disc would have been very useful.

        If only I could find a (non farking stupidly overpriced) broadband adapter for my old DC…

        1. Yup, CE was an alternate OS for the Dreamcast available to developers. Your disk could boot up to WINCE, or Sega’s own operating system. Very few games came out in WINCE. I’m not sure if they ever got something like Directx on the thing. Porting any sort of decent or complex game from Big Windows would be harder than just porting them to work with the SEGA OS instead.

          As far as the WINCE laptops go, there was a port of WinG (remember that?) for earlier CE devices that tried to get hard access to the screen RAM. Some later versions seemed to use something else, couldn’t figure out what.

          But it was a pain. I did find a huge ZIP of software for CE. Many of which didn’t work, and a lot of which assumed a 100×160 or so screen, portrait aspect. They ran fixed in the top-left corner as a little window. No resizing or anything like that. And were generally pretty bad.

          I think SCUMMVM is ported, and a DOS emulator. Doesn’t mean they’ll work on your particular machine, or there’s any way to find out why not. The whole thing is such a gigantic pain you’re better off with Android, or possibly a pack of playing cards.

    2. I did look into putting Linux on it but signals were mixed on how well the one distro I found would work. The Javascript should have worked for my purposes. The final fail wasn’t so much the little annoyances like no NTP as the fact the damn things kept breaking.

      1. we get the syvania brand in europe, and the build quality is still a byword for no name crap to be sold by supermarkets so not too shocked by that! I feel your pain, but sometimes you have to pick your hardware battles, but even if you fail its not a fail as you have learned for later projects. I wrote the howto for the gentoo install of the wind u130, and that was crappy build quality inside too & I did have a good try at getting linux onto a archos 101iT tablet, and had englightenment running on it at one point, but lack of hardware support for host mode in the usb socket and other things like the tablet turned off if it got too cold and wouldnt come on for days nuked that one. I use it under android to read ebooks in bed now, its all its fit for.

        Ive got a 12ft romer portable co-ordinate measurement arm next to me on my bench at the moment, romer themselves wont support it or maintain it in any way as its a old serial model, but a replacement is $20k for a used newer one off ebay. Ive had the thing spread all over the bench doing little bits to the fpga boards and encoders inside and seeing what makes it tick and building a replacement psu/cutting off the proprietory connectors etc and now its sort of working and has db9/dc jacks/runs off a 12v brick or battery & Im poking their proprietory daemon with a stick seeing if the password they put on the configs at the factory falls out so I can recalibrate it after being apart. If I can get it going it will be awesome in my little home shop, and all of my fails rolled up would have been learning experiences leading to that if it comes off.
        If not, Im $1000 out on the deal and know a boatload more of the insides than most, and so its been a thousand buck learning experience.

        I suppose the entire section of HaD is a fail, the only fails we truly do are those we do not attempt :)

  4. Heh, reminds me a bit of my mis-spent youth. A room-mate had gotten a job helping a CS prof write a programming textbook. For the task he was given a TRS-80 Model II, his job was to write and vet the example programs.

    This was about 1981 or so. The project stalled for a couple months after the computer was delivered; after a week or so of playing with it, we ended up writing a graphical clock program for it among other things; and it spent the better part of the next month as a very expensive, inaccurate (It lost about 10 minutes a day due to rounding errors) and utterly geeky table clock.

    We also started trying to write a computerization of SPI’s “War in the East” after an unauthorized nuclear exchange in mid 1943. (Lance, the goldumb retriever, chased a cat under the card table holding up the game toppling it, and dumping all 9 maps and thousands of pieces onto the floor)

    We quickly realized that this was far beyond the capabilities of the computer, or our patience typing in thousands of ‘DATA’ statements.

    1. Thanks! I actually liked the way it worke as a basic alarm clock. I lived with the edge case annoyances for nearly a year before I realized I was tired of wondering if it would still be working in the morning. The clock works (or could easily be made to work with a little recoding) on most devices that support a browser, but most of those have other clock apps available.

    1. There is a WINCE Doom, yep. Depends on the CPU, my old piece of crap machine had something like a 500MHz ARM and got about 1 FPS. The whole thing’s riddled with compatibility problems, lack of support, and being a badly-writted misbegotten piece of Microsoft shit. Wouldn’t recommend it as versatile. Or even as an alarm clock.

      1. Wow… 500MHZ!?ARMs haven’t existed at that speed since the Win 90′
        damn, that’s slow! And I thought my computer is slow, yet this thing will probably explode if you try to play skyrim on it :P

    1. You forgot to mention that I didn’t spell out the acronym/initialism when I first used it; ‘HID (human interface device) device’, ‘PIN (personal identification number) number’, and ‘ATM (automated teller machine) machine’.

      You gotta step up your armchair editor game, man.

    1. Well it was less than half the price of actual clocks with similar sized, but not even color, displays. Thefail wasn’t that it had a keyboard and OS; the keyboard actually made a nice large target to disarm it. The fail was it was a poor OS that didn’t do a lot of what it should have and crappy hardware that wasn’t reliable.

  5. They run android also so there is your nix hole. Spent mucho time on forums helping folks get the belated sp42 rom out of the gate. IIRC it is nothing more than a jumper for the chip to expect ce or droid, where you can then muck with the bootloader. That is, if you want to bother with this junk again. The other model that is a tablet with a keyboard, is easier to deal with once you build the adb to fake ipod connector and double check your solder connections ;) It was a sad blast form the past to see this lunking chunk show up.

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