Microsoft's wireless play

Paul Flessner, vice president of Microsoft's .NET enterprise server division used the Tech Ed stage last week to unveil the public version of its Mobile Information Server 2001 (MIS). The long promised mobile piece of Microsoft's .NET server strategy, MIS brings wireless e-mail and data access features to the Windows 2000 operating system and provides users of mobile devices with access to information from Microsoft's messaging software, Exchange Server, as well as to intranet applications and services.

Microsoft says that its MIS will be the foundation for new generations of mobile applications, providing a set of services for developers to build and deploy mobile applications. The server supports interactive applications on any type of browser-based platform, and it can support a number of popular network protocols and languages, including HTML, HDML, and WAP.

Market researchers at Zona Research in Redwood City, CA, see the MIS announcement as further evidence that Microsoft is making a major wireless play. That the Redmond, Wash-based software giant has an interest in the fast-growing wireless space is no great revelation. Microsoft began its move into the mobile Internet arena in earnest with the July 1999 acquisition of Sendit, a Stockholm-based software developer. Sendit had developed a technology called Internet Cellular Smart Access (ICSA), which enables digital cellular providers to become mobile Internet service providers using Microsoft BackOffice or Exchange server. Microsoft also sells software for wireless device makers and content that service providers can offer consumers.

But what might not be so obvious is the level of support Microsoft already enjoys from wireless carriers. Zona researchers point to major support from Vodafone UK, which they characterize as "the mother of all carriers."

Vodafone UK recently announced the commercial availability of Vodafone Office Live, which delivers Outlook services powered by Microsoft mobile software, and which reportedly represents the first commercially available service based on MIS. Other carriers, including AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless in the U.S., and Telefonica Moviles in Spain, are expected to deploy pilot programs of MIS-based services with enterprise customers in the second half of this year.

Zona researchers contend that MIS functionalities can bring wireless apps into "a whole new ballpark," where cell phones can be told to vibrate, not ring, if, for example, a meeting or movie is programmed into the Outlook calendar.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].