Looking to gain an edge on its rivals in the market for handheld devices, Microsoft Monday lifted the curtain on a test version of the Windows Media Player designed to let users stream and download multimedia files into Pocket PC devices. The early version of the software, dubbed Microsoft Windows Media Player for Pocket PC Technology Preview Edition, is available now for the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC device, and is meant for developers and sophisticated users who want to evaluate the application, Microsoft officials said. Microsoft developed the specifications for the Pocket PC platform, and is working with manufacturers to spur adoption of the devices. In the next few months, versions of the software will also be available for Hewlett-Packard's Jornada and the Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC devices. The final version of the player will be available early in 2001, according to a company statement. The test version can be downloaded from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/. The test player works with Media Services in Windows 2000 Server, and is also designed to work with 802.3 Ethernet, 802.11 wireless Ethernet at 11M bps (bits per second) and Infrared Data Association (IrDA) specifications, Microsoft said. Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates had been expected to demonstrate the new player during his keynote speech Sunday evening at Comdex in the US, according to the company, but apparently ran behind schedule and never got to it. The new player is being demonstrated at the Microsoft booth here at the Comdex trade show. The demonstrations are conducted with Metricom Inc. Ricochet wireless networking technology and a Sierra Wireless Inc. Aircard modem for the Pocket PC. Once downloaded, audio and video files can be played back at rates from 16Kbps to 256Kbps, the company said. Microsoft's rivals in the PDA (personal digital assistant) arena, Palm and Handspring, have majority market share among users of handheld computing devices. Microsoft officials said capabilities such as multimedia downloading into the Pocket PC will help them gain ground, but Handspring and Palm are also working with third party developers to create wireless download add-ons for Palm and Handspring devices.