Microsoft's Entertainment Pack for Windows CE is an important advance in Microsoft's drive to make Windows CE the operating system of choice for handheld and palmtop PCs. Don't laugh.

Whatever else people do with their mobile computers, they love to play games. Sure you see a lot of people working on spreadsheets and other business applications while on airplanes. But you see a lot of people playing games, too.

Since the introduction of Windows 3.0, that little Solitaire game that came with it has been one of its attractions and addictions. So much so that some companies made a practice of deleting the game from their office PCs. Too many employees were spending too much time indulging their addiction.

Free Cell Solitaire, which came with Windows 95, had a similar effect. Here is a game much less dependent on the luck of the draw than the original Klondike version. If you concentrate and play your cards right, you can win Free Cell nearly every time. For many users, it is even more addicting.

The only game that comes with Windows CE is Klondike. It is a fine replica of the PC Windows version, rich in color (at least on systems that display color) and with all the same options, including selection of patterns for the backs of the cards. But a traveling user, having done some work using one of Windows CE's "Pocket" versions of Word, Excel or PowerPoint, longs for some better way to relax or pass the time on a long flight.

The Entertainment Pack fills the void nicely with 10 games making it a good value for the retail price of $42. Not only is there Free Cell a full replica of the Windows 95 version but there are several other favorites from other Windows games collections, including Hearts, Minesweeper, and the tic-tac-toe adaptation, Reversi.

For sheer time-killing absorption, there is another favorite from the earlier Windows Entertainment Pack the mah-jongg adaptation called Taipei. This is a board game in which the object is to clear the board by matching tiles, two at a time and thereby removing them. Like Free Cell, this is a game that can be won every time.

The only thing Taipei lacks that its bigger PC Windows versions have is color: This game is in black and white. It's no great loss, however, since the tiles in the PC versions aren't very colorful anyway, and many handheld and palmtop PCs can't display color.

Other games in the collection include Blackjack, a shoot'em-up game called Space Defense, a strategy game called Sink the Ships, Chess (there's a time-killer), and a brainteaser called Break the Code.

The games come on a CD, and installing them provides a clear illustration of one of the realities of these small systems: They are a bit like lunar landing vehicles which can never stray too far from the mother ship, which in this instance is your desktop or other full-blown PC.

Handheld PCs have no disk drives, so new software must either be downloaded via modem or installed from the disk drive of a PC. The literature boasts how easy it is to "synchronize" your Windows CE-based handheld with your desktop system, but when you try it, the first word that will come to mind is not likely to be "easy."

It requires a serial cable (or, in some cases, an infrared port) connection. That's not so hard, but you must also get all the settings on both PCs to match, and that can be tricky. Not only does your handheld use the serial port transmission facility of your desktop, but it also relies on your desktop's dial-up networking facility. How it does this is not entirely clear, but suffice it to say you cannot simultaneously have your desktop dialed in to the Internet and synchronized with your handheld.

The default speed of the connection between your desktop and handheld PC is 19,200 bits per second. That's pretty peppy, but nowhere near as fast as the two computers should be capable of. In our tests using a Sharp Mobilon 4600 handheld connection to a Gateway 2000 desktop, we were never able to make a connection at a faster speed, despite repeated attempts and despite changing all the settings we could think of on both computers to the same, faster speeds.

The whole thing suggested that if you ever get the two computers talking to each other, don't change anything. Once that is done, you put the games CD in your desktop's disk drive, start the "Setup" program and the process unfolds much as it would if you were putting the games on your PC, except that they automatically are transferred to your handheld.

T.R. Reid is London bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at trreid@twp.com and Brit Hume at 72737.357@compuserve.com.

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