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At MDC/VSLive: Microsoft pursues place in the wireless world

Mobile computing looms as the next domain for Microsoft to try and conquer, as it closes, apparently, a long-running antitrust case in Europe. The company unveiled the latest upgrade to its platform for mobile applications at its third annual Mobile Developer Conference (MDC) in San Francisco this week. Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition is an extension of the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker's mobile operating system for Pocket PCs and Smartphones.

The new version is designed to provide mobile application developers with a consistent platform across a constantly shifting landscape of hardware form factors, said Irwin Rodrigues, Microsoft's group product manager for mobile and embedded devices. The MDC event was co-located at San Francisco's Moscone Center with the VSLive conference.

"We're allowing the hardware manufacturers to innovate and differentiate while maintaining platform integrity for the application developers," said Rodrigues. "We think we've hit the sweet spot in terms of balancing hardware innovation and platform integrity."

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition adds support for landscape screen orientation, devices with higher screen resolution requirements and an emerging design that calls for square screens.

During his opening keynote, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates cited Motorola's latest Smartphone as an example of the kinds of challenges facing mobile device developers. Unveiled in February at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France, Motorola's MPx is a dual-hinge device that opens both lengthways as a clamshell phone, and in landscape mode to provide a QWERTY keyboard for messaging. Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition comes with the APIs developers need to create "orientation-aware" applications that switch dynamically between portrait and landscape modes.

Gates gave his presentation Wednesday, the same day that the European Commission handed down its decision to fine Microsoft about $600 million for violating EU antitrust law by failing to give competitors in audio-visual software and servers a fairer chance to compete. He made no comment on the decision.

Gates claims the new version of Windows Mobile 2003 makes it possible for developers to build a single application for both Pocket PCs and Smartphones that will automatically adapt to the geometry and resolution of the different devices' displays.

"We're trying to hit home to application developers that, even though all of these form factors and screen resolutions are out there, they can take advantage of these new functionalities with one code base," Rodrigues explained. "With this release we've done a lot to abstract that stuff away from developers so that they don't have to worry about it."

Microsoft has been moving strongly into the mobile market since last June, when the company unveiled Windows Mobile 2003, along with a new SDK, several new relationships with mobile OEMs and its then-new Windows Mobile branding strategy. "Windows Mobile" became the global brand for Windows-powered mobile device applications for both Pocket PCs and Smartphones.

"A year ago we were just testing the waters with pilot programs," said Rodrigues. "Now we're seeing actual IT shops deploying thousands if not tens of thousands of devices standardized on Pocket PCs and Smartphones in the enterprise. They're seeing it as a powerful common software platform [on which] they can build line-of-business applications. And they're seeing that they can leverage the existing skills of their in-house Visual Studio developers."

Microsoft is also reaching out to device developers with a certification and marketing program for Windows Mobile applications called Mobile2Market. The program is designed to help commercial developers connect with multiple distribution channels, including retailers, e-tailers, OEMs and mobile operators, Rodrigues said. More than 700 certified applications are shipping today, primarily on mobile operator networks, he noted.

To get the word out about Market2Market, Microsoft is sponsoring an application development contest. Announced at the show, the $100,000 Mobile2Market application contest will award four grand prizes of $25,000 plus promotion and distribution opportunities to four ISVs in the following categories: Smartphone Work, Smartphone Play, Pocket PC Work and Pocket PC Play.

For more information on the Market2Market application development contest, please go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/information/devprograms/mobile2market/contest.mspx.

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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