Windows XP Bluetooth Support : A Rant

As promised, I thought I'd rant a bit about the Bluetooth (BT) support in Windows.

In the beginning there was Windows XP and it had its BT support cut before release, as the standard was very new, and I think that was the right decision at the time.

Then there was XP SP1 which added the provision for BT support, but you had to install the BT stack that came with your hardware device (known as a BT radio). The quality of these stacks varied by vendor, and by OS. My wife successfully used the Belkin BT radio on Windows 2000 to sync her T68i without issue (well except Setup was tricky). Meanwhile I tried the same Belkin BT radio on XP and it couldnt see my P800 at all. I switched to the TDK BT radio and not only could it see my P800, but it came with a P800 Config Wizard to help me set it up. (Bluetooth is so hard to configure that Wizards for specific devices are necessary: sad but true). For all of this the BT radio is exposed to applications as a serial port.

Microsoft released its own BT hardware (mouse and keyboard) which came with a Microsoft BT stack. You'd think that would be the end of it, but no: the MS stack only supported enough for the MS mouse and keyboard. Serial port emulation was missing, which made it useless for syncing phones, among other things. In addition the box has a warning that says you can only have one BT device installed at a time, as the BT stacks conflict. Imagine if printers were like this! So much for plug & play huh?

I liken this mess to the similar mess in the early 90s with TCP/IP and Windows 3.x. Different vendors had different TCP/IP stacks, with different APIs, that were incompatible with each other, making TCPIP app development a nightmare. What solved this? Windows For Workgroups 3.11, which had a Microsoft TCPIP stack. It worked on any net card, and forever solved that problem. It didnt do any favors for the TCPIP vendors of the day, but good riddance, I had terrible experiences with every 3rd party stack I tried.

We need a similar solution for bluetooth in Windows XP: A Microsoft-supplied BT stack, that is fully featured, and supports all hardware via PnP. The answer should be XP SP2 which has real BT support. I did try the first test version but probably shouldn't say what is in there exactly. However I can say that there is at least hope that SP2 will be my BT savior. We'll see.

My car on the other hand is already BT enabled via a tiny add-on hands-free kit. I can make calls and answer the phone in my car all without any cables, leaving my phone in my pocket. Configuration was simple, and It Just Works. I hope one day my PC will offer the same level of BT functionality as my car. If only I could charge my phone over bluetooth...

Disclaimer: these are my personal views and may not be those of my employer, Microsoft.