Microsoft expands .NET to handhelds

Microsoft hasn't forgotten to include mobile devices in its XML Web services .NET initiative. Find out how these three new tools can help developers extend .NET to handhelds.

Putting products behind its .NET promises, Microsoft unveiled today three new products that will expand its XML-based .NET and Web services initiative to handheld smart devices.

The .NET Compact Framework, Smart Device Extensions (SDE) for Visual Studio .NET and Mobile Application Publishing and Delivery Framework were announced at Microsoft's Mobility Developer's Conference in London.

Microsoft's three mobile devices, Pocket PC 2002, Smartphone 2002, and Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, will integrate with the new products, said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for Microsoft's Mobile Devices division.

The .NET Compact Framework "is a runtime for developing applications and XML Web services for smart devices," said Suwanjindar. SDE for Visual Studio .NET is a tool that developers can use to build on the .NET Compact Framework, he said. Both products will also be in beta this month.

"Pocket PC has suffered in the past in terms of applications available to it," said analyst Isaac Ro. Because .NET is an XML-based Web services framework, "the .NET Compact Framework opens the gates and allows a standardized environment" for developers to create new applications, said Ro of Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

So, putting .NET in the mobile device arena allows for application integration within all kinds of mobile devices, said Ro. The .NET Compact Framework will therefore allow Web services to become part of the mobile environment. Ro predicted that the .NET Compact Framework will take over the mobile development space.

Microsoft's other new product, Mobile Application Publishing and Delivery Framework, is a certification process for applications built to run on smart devices. It will help independent software vendors get their applications to market efficiently, said Suwanjindar. Examples of specific applications may be games or business-related applications, he said. Handango and VeriTest are two certification vendors announced. Handango is the largest online retailer of Pocket PC applications, according to Suwanjindar.

Pocket PC 2002 is Microsoft's data-centric smart device, said Suwanjindar. It was launched in October 2001 and runs Windows CE 3.0. Twenty-five original equipment manufacturers sell Pocket PCs, including Compaq, Casio and Intermec. Pocket PC has several built-in applications, including SMTP and IMAP support, Microsoft Word and Excel, MSN Messenger, and Windows Media Player. Since January, more than 85,000 Pocket PC software distribution kits have been delivered, said Suwanjindar. Further, over 250,000 development toolkits have been distributed. Pocket PCs run $250-$500.

Smartphone and Pocket PC Phone Edition are Microsoft's voice-centric mobile devices. Smartphone, previously codenamed "Stinger," is a "mobile phone, mobile Outlook and mobile Internet," said Suwanjindar. It was announced in beta version in February and also runs Windows CE 3.0. Smartphone synchs with server and desktop e-mail. Microsoft's hardware partners include Samsung, Compal and Sendo. Cingular is the only US-named service carrier so far.

Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition is essentially a voice-enabled Pocket PC, said Suwanjindar. Notifications, MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player and Terminal Services are some of the applications. PocketPC Phone Edition is .NET ready and will be available later this year. It will run $400-$600.

All three mobile devices have shared application program interfaces (APIs). "Pocket Outlook Object Model (POOM) allows developers to hook their applications into calendars, contacts and tasks," said Suwanjindar. Another key API, he said, is Object Exchange (OBEX). OBEX is a device independent communication protocol that allows data to be shared between devices.

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