Operating to a mobile spec

Businesses have three main options when it comes to mobile operating systems. Antony Adshead examines the pros and cons of each

Enterprise mobility is changing. Shrinking computing devices to make them suited to working on the move presents a number of challenges. Key among these is the quest for an ever-greater richness of applications allied to a smaller, less-power hungry device.

There are three main operating systems for mobile devices. Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 is making great strides towards leadership. It has the advantage of being based on the most common operating environment in the server and desktop arena, with familiar interfaces and ease of integration with Microsoft applications and server software.

Windows Mobile 6 is bundled with an upgraded Office Mobile suite, which includes Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and Powerpoint Mobile. There is also a large number of application providers, with more than 18,000 commercial applications available for Windows Mobile devices.

Mobile versions of the .net Compact Framework and SQL Server are built into Windows Mobile 6, which allow developers to create and access applications such as sales tools and inventory trackers.

The recent Windows Mobile 6 devices have wireless functionality including Bluetooth, 3G, HSDPA and Wi-Fi. Microsoft also claims the new operating system makes it easier for operators and device-makers to integrate voice over IP functionality into devices.

The second option for businesses that want enterprise mobility is Research in Motion's Blackberry - the latest version of which, Blackberry Curve, is the smallest and lightest yet. The Blackberry has made its name by being very good at one thing - e-mail.

Messaging is core to the Blackberry, which offers phone, e-mail and SMS options. Further standard functions come as applets that run a calendar, memo pad, to do list, calculator and photo viewer.

Blackberry devices have compatibility with Microsoft Office applications, but that means viewing rather than editing Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. PDFs can also be viewed, but graphics and formatting are stripped out in the process.

The Blackberry operating system also enables developers to create Java or web-based applications, which can then be downloaded and pushed to devices over the air. Java-based applications available for Blackberry include sales force automation, field service dispatch and helpdesk service management, as well as applications for industries such as health care, real estate, law enforcement, finance and professional services.

The third option for business is Symbian. The Symbian operating system has a huge share of the smartphone market, with nearly 65% in the first quarter of last year. However, it is hard to say there is one Symbian operating system, as it is tailored to individual devices and looks and acts differently on each.

Ease of use differs depending on the device, but messaging using Pop3, Imap4 and webmail are possible, and Microsoft Office compatibility allows access to Word, Excel and Powerpoint. However, the ability to create and edit documents depends on the hardware.

About 5,500 third-party applications are available, but fewer are available for business use than there are for Windows Mobile.

The latest version - Symbian 9.5 - was released earlier this year, and it promises better memory usage and integrated push e-mail support. New features include demand paging, in which part of the disc's library is loaded into physical memory only when needed rather than being preloaded. This is claimed to make handsets based on version 9.5 more responsive.

Another new feature is Ram defragmentation, which mirrors the defragmentation of PC hard drives, freeing up further memory.

Along with the three main mobile operating systems, there is another option from Access, which bought the Palm operating system in 2005. Access is developing a Linux-based operating system, known as Access Linux Palm, to replace it.

Access launched Linux mobile operating system product development kits to partners at the 3GSM conference, and last year mobile provider Orange announced it has named Access as an approved platform across its network.

Blackberry Curve blurs boundaries >>

Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 >>

Research in Motion's Blackberry >>

Symbian >>

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