Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 5.0, aka Magneto, claiming better reliability, improved hardware support and a host of new entertainment and work features.

PDAs and smart phones running Mobile 5.0 will come onto the market in the next couple of months. Enhancements include support for hard disks, additional wireless network types and persistent storage to retain user data when the battery runs out. The most significant omission is a BlackBerry-bashing push email function (read our analysis).

"The whole mobile space is incredibly hot," said Bill Gates at the software's launch in Las Vegas. "We're moving well beyond just doing voice calls and SMS messages," he said.

Windows Mobile 5.0 offers hardware makers more flexibility and mobile operators more ways to customise devices, allowing for a wider range of devices. The operating system now supports more buttons, landscape display and Qwerty keyboards that will let users control the device in one hand.

There is also network support for more high-speed networks, the addition of wireless LAN in Windows Mobile for Smartphones and support for push-to-talk, Microsoft said.

Windows Media Player 10 Mobile supports Microsoft's digital rights and lets you play music from online stores and view TV shows recorded on Media Center PCs on your phone.

Work-wise, Microsoft has updated the mobile versions of Excel and Word and announced a mobile version of PowerPoint. There is also support for encryption over a VPN connection. Other security features include Bluetooth authorisation.

Gates revelled in the success of Windows Mobile in the past year. In late 2002, Orange was the first mobile phone operator to sell a Microsoft-based smart phone. Today 68 operators in 48 countries sell devices made by 40 manufacturers, he said. "Over the last couple of quarters we had over a million devices shipped in Europe alone," he said.

Coinciding with Microsoft's announcement, Dell and HP announced upgrades for users of their Windows Mobile-based products. Dell plans to offer upgrades to Windows Mobile 5.0 for users of its Axim X50 handheld products and HP will offer upgrades for users of the iPaq hx2100, hx2400, hx2700 and hx4700 series handhelds, the companies said in separate statements. Pricing for the upgrades was not provided.