Microsoft puts mobile software centre-stage

Exchange 2000 at hub of mobile strategy with portable HTML Web browser and data collection handhelds.

Exchange 2000 at hub of mobile strategy with portable HTML Web browser and data collection handhelds.

At the Microsoft Tech Ed 2000 developers' conference in Amsterdam last week, Microsoft discussed a number of up-and-coming developments it is working on for mobile users, writes Cliff Saran.

Microsoft product manager Dilip Mistry said that operators could subsidise handheld computers and smart phones in a similar way as they now do for ordinary cellphones. And the wide adoption of intelligent mobile communications could pave the way for the sort of .net services Microsoft plans, he said.

Sony's new Tiberius mobile phone, demonstrated at the conference, is the first wireless device to incorporate the Microsoft Mobile Explorer Web browser. A version of the browser is also used in the Pocket PC.

The Mobile Explorer Web browser supports XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) and ActiveX. However, the ActiveX controls available within Mobile Explorer are not compatible with those available on a Windows-based PC. Popular plug-ins like the Macromedia Flash control for Internet Explorer are also not compatible with the Pocket PC.

Microsoft says Mobile Explorer is a Web browser that can be used to access HTML-based Web sites. Unlike wireless application protocol (Wap), Web sites do not need to be rebuilt to support a different standard (in Wap's case the Wireless Markup Language) in order to work in the wireless mobile domain.

Microsoft Exchange 2000 available later this summer, is a key constituent of the Microsoft mobile strategy. Webstore, the Exchange e-mail database in the 2000 release, has been designed to hold components as well as e-mail.

In a demonstration at Tech Ed, Mistry showed how Webstore could be used to deliver relevant information to the Sony Tiberius phone and Pocket PC device. Basically the Webstore accesses document information contained within an Excel spreadsheet such as a named group of columns.

The demo showed how with Mobile Explorer, a user could access the named group of spreadsheet cells directly from a menu option on the Tiberius screen.

The same data was also available on the Pocket PC.

In a development related to Webstore for Exchange, Microsoft is working on technology called the Adaptive User Interface designed to perform XML processing on a server rather than a client device.

"Some devices lack the computing power to run XML processing locally," Mistry explained.

The adaptive interface technology performs a function analogous to IBM's Transcoding Proxy Server, which translates Web-based data into a format suitable to the device being used.

On the database front Microsoft has extended its SQL Server relational database down to Windows CE handheld and Pocket PC devices. The SQL Server 2000 for Windows CE, due later in the year, is designed to allow business to collate information on handheld computers and upload data onto the main server database systems.

Microsoft SQL Server product manager, Marina Steadman said a company could use SQL Server 2000 for Windows CE in warehouses for stocktaking applications.

For instance, an infra-red barcode reader could scan product codes onto a CE-based handheld device. The stock information could be collated and transmitted across a wireless link into the warehouse system's SQL Server database.

Summary Box Exchange 2000 will offer an updated Webstore database which will be able to interpret Office documents to present relevant information on a mobile device

A mobile version of SQL Server called SQL Server 2000 for Windows CE available later in the year will allow users to collate information and replicate data to back-end SQL Server databases

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