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Microsoft .NET framework going 'mobile'

[Programmers Report/March 25, 2003] - Microsoft continued its push into the mobile and wireless space last week with the official launch of its .NET Mobile Framework. This final version of the new application framework, which will ship with the upcoming Visual Studio .NET 2003 IDE, represents what Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates calls a "significant" investment of his company's resources in a market that "will be the fastest moving of all of our businesses."

Microsoft designed the .NET Compact Framework to enable Visual Studio (VS) developers to begin building applications for mobile devices with little or no retraining. The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker expects the estimated 7 million VS developers to deploy the new framework in next-generation wireless enterprise apps that take advantage of Web services and rich offline data access.

According to Ed Kaim, product manager for the .NET Mobile Development Platform, Microsoft intends the .NET Compact Framework to serve as a catalyst for pushing Web services to mobile devices. "Web services are a key enabling factor in the mobile space," Kaim told Programmers Report, "because they enable the enterprise to extend its existing infrastructure to these small devices. [With the Compact Framework], it becomes a natural extension of their skills and infrastructure."

Microsoft is promoting the new app framework with a big giveaway: some 24,000 Pocket PCs bundled with the .NET Compact Framework. The ViewSonic V37 devices will be given to developers who buy Visual Studio .NET and MSDN subscribers, Kaim said.

An early adopter was Cambridge, Mass.-based ShelfLink. The sales- and field-force software maker built a .NET Compact Framework-based mobile solution with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003. According to Sean Going, senior software engineer at ShelfLink, the SmartSelling solution was developed in six months by 10 developers using a combination of Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the .NET Compact Framework.

The Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) recently deployed a customized version of SmartSelling, called Power Presell, to handheld-equipped sales representatives in a pilot program in Dallas.

"[The Compact Framework] allowed us split up the tasks and to break everything down into different components that different developers could work on and that could then be iterated through with the Pepsi team on a component-by-component basis," explained ShelfLink's Going. "We weren't writing huge chunks of the application every week. We were looking at one specific area, one component that one developer was working on and it wouldn't affect anyone else."

Microsoft disclosed its plan at its first Mobility Developers Conference. It was timed to coincide with this year's CTIA Wireless 2003 exhibition in New Orleans. The event drew an estimated audience of 3,000 application developers and wireless industry representatives.

"We are in significant investment mode," Gates said during his keynote speech at the conference in New Orleans. "We are going to invest, invest and invest to make our mobile platform the most popular platform.

"Major computing trends have always been driven by software developers, and the same will be true for mobile computing," added Gates. "Just as Visual Basic sparked a wave of innovation in business applications and made the PC an essential business tool, Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the .NET Compact Framework will unlock the potential of Web services and rich data on smart devices. This will enable developers to drive a new era of innovation in the mobile marketplace, transforming smart devices into 'must-have' productivity tools."

Said Gates in a statement: "We want to make it easy for the 7 million Windows developers to build applications and services for the emerging wireless data market by providing familiar, yet customized tools. It's truly an exciting time for mobile application developers and the industry -- there are incredible opportunities."

The .NET Mobile Framework has actually been available to a small group of beta users since October of last year. "We were going to wait for this official launch," Microsoft's Kaim explained, "but we had really strong demand from our beta customer group -- companies that had made huge bets on us early on -- and we didn't really want to say no to them. They said, 'We built these apps and we're ready to go with them, and we want to start deploying.'"

To accommodate these early adopters, Microsoft set up its Go Live licensing program in December. A Go Live license allows these adopters to begin deploying their apps for internal use.

For more of Bill Gates' keynote at the Mobility Developers Conference (text version and Webcast), please go to the following Microsoft site: http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/speeches/2003/03-19mdc.asp

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For other Programmers Report articles, please go to http://www.adtmag.com/article.asp?id=6265

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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