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Web services invade wireless world

Microsoft believes technology is aligning to make 2003 the year XML Web services ''take off'' in applications for mobile devices, according to Steve Lombardi, technical product manager, Microsoft's MapPoint .NET.

He points to MapPoint .NET, Microsoft's first commercially available XML Web service, as the vanguard of this trend. With cell phone manufacturers offering Web browser capabilities and built-in GPS, he said, the mobile hardware is now becoming available to make mobile Web services applications practical.

Dollar Rent A Car Inc. is already using the MapPoint Web service on its desktop Web site (http://www.dollar.com/) as a locator to help customers find the company rental office nearest to their location.

Microsoft's Lombardi sees the next step in this technology moving to mobile devices where travelers can get directions to the Dollar office on cell phones and other mobile devices as they step off a plane at the airport.

This is only the beginning of the potential applications Microsoft envisions, which, according to Lombardi include giving real-estate agents information on homes for sale in a neighborhood they are visiting with a customer. The locator system would link to a back-office database of housing listings and neighborhood demographics that the agent could view on a mobile device, he added.

For mobile workers doing inspections or repairs in the field, the MapPoint Web service could help them not only with directions to trouble sites but also by automatically documenting where work was performed, he said. Supervisors could later review the locations fed back from the mobile device to analyze whether electrical service outages, for example, were occurring in a geographic pattern that indicated a larger problem with the power grid, he added.

All this will be possible because Web services technology allows developers to build mobile applications that meet the thin-client requirements of handheld devices, noted Lombardi.

''You can build very thin clients,'' he explained. ''On my Smart Phone, I'm running simple little MapPoint applications that I use for driving directions. They take up no client-side storage.''

This is important because maps are very data heavy.

''Just the base map data for North America is a couple gigabytes,'' he explained. ''You can't even begin to put that kind of storage on a handheld device. So Web services lets us conceal that complexity.''

To support development with mobile Web services, Microsoft includes Visual Basic, Java and C# tools for building mobile applications in the latest version of Visual Studio .NET, Lombardi said. The MapPoint Web service, including WSDL and downloadable documentation, is available for free to developers working on applications, he added; once the application goes commercial, Microsoft has a pay-per-use licensing program.

More information is available at http://www.microsoft.com/mappoint/

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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