By Tim Landgrave
With the release of the new Windows Mobile 2003 (WM2k3) operating system, Microsoft has played its first card in a hand designed to move corporate users out of the continual evaluation cycle for mobile devices and into the more profitable purchasing mode. It hopes to do this with a true mobile OS, a set of mobile-enabled servers and services to be released throughout 2003, and a familiar corporate development platform. I’ll examine the elements of this mobility power play and look at its potential to change the corporate landscape for mobile functionality.
The true mobile OS
Most analysts who look at the mobile device market don’t really understand the difference in the value proposition between a PDA that can run some additional programs (the Palm OS and its derivatives) and a true mobile OS that’s designed from the ground up for full mobile functionality and connectivity. The feature set of WM2k3 should help them and the corporations who buy their research finally see the difference. It’s the first mobile OS designed to really take advantage of any available communications protocols.
These key protocols include 802.11b, Bluetooth, GSM, and CDMA. For example, the new Zero Configuration Wi-Fi lets you easily connect to a wireless hot spot and saves the settings so that you can connect automatically the next time you’re within range of the same wireless network. This makes moving between wireless networks simple and makes using both internal corporate wireless networks and external vendor networks like tMobile much easier to manage. WM2k3’s built-in Bluetooth support allows you to use any Bluetooth device, but it’s especially convenient if you have a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone.
I’ve worked with many companies in deploying mobile applications that required cables between their mobile devices and mobile phones, and this eliminates one of the biggest headaches—the cabling. The new GSM and CDMA phone support in the WM2k3 Phone edition or the Pocket PC edition with a phone card allows you to move seamlessly between voice and data connectivity, making it easier to talk, send messages, and maintain presence information without requiring the user to log in and out of services when changing modes. Of course, the ability to keep a mobile OS connected is meaningless without a secure way to connect and something to consume on the device.
Mobile-enabled servers and services
With a newly designed connection manager, it’s now trivial to make a connection to the corporate network or to the Internet. And to secure the connection, WM2k3 adds support for multiple VPNs, 802.1x, IPSec L2TP tunnels, and encryption, using 128-bit SSL and/or 128-bit CAPI. WM2k3 devices have all the necessary protocol support required to connect securely to a company’s internal network.
In addition to the simple file access and terminal services support inherent in its device, Microsoft is also introducing key new Server and Services functionality later this year. At its annual TechEd conference in early June, Microsoft distributed a copy of Release Candidate 1 of its upcoming Exchange Server 2003. In just under four hours, I installed a configuration with Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 that allowed me to remotely synchronize my Pocket PC device directly from the server without requiring a desktop with ActiveSync loaded. Using either the Pocket PC Phone edition or a wireless connection card from a mobile carrier, you can use this functionality to continuously maintain your e-mail, appointments, and contacts using the wireless cell network.
At TechEd, Microsoft also discussed other key technologies that would help corporations take advantage of the new mobile OS. With the MapPoint Web Service, customers using a Pocket PC can get maps, driving directions, routing instructions, and other services delivered directly to their mobile device. Microsoft is also working with the wireless carriers to provide an Enterprise Location Server, which will allow companies to marry the MapPoint services with current positioning retrieved from the device. This would allow, for example, a Pocket PC user to query a service that finds the closest restaurant or gas station based on the phone’s location as calculated by the service provider, but deliver the data to a service provider in a format that can be easily consumed and integrated into a mapping or presence-based application.
The development platform
The development platform is the real key to this mobile power play—putting tools into the hands of developers that extend beyond the device. For the last year and a half, Microsoft has been focused on standardizing key elements of its Pocket PC and SmartPhone technology and shipping that core code in the current version of Windows CE .NET. That work has been delivered now with WM2k3 and will be delivered in the SmartPhone platform later in the year. But the key driver for a new application on the WM2k3 platform will be the integration of the .NET Compact Framework into the mobile OS.
By delivering the .NET Compact Framework as a standard element in the WM2k3 platform, Microsoft will enable millions of VB developers to begin building applications for an entirely new platform. It was the availability of VB 1.0 that launched the Windows 3.x platform in the early '90s by dramatically expanding the number of applications for the platform. Now both corporate and commercial VB.NET (and C#) developers will be able to create robust, highly performing applications for the Windows Mobile platform. And this is Microsoft at its best—building development platforms that allow companies to create new classes of applications that change the way we think about and use technology.