The Power of Microsoft's Forthcoming Mobile Web Technologies

"I have seen the future," I feel like saying, "and it looks good." That is, the future looks unbelievably great for a software development platform that will empower almost anyone (not just software developers) to quickly, easily, and effectively build wireless applications, host them on Microsoft IIS, and automatically extend their capabilities to almost any wireless device. I'll delve into the details in a minute. But first, I'll tell you about Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 Server (MIS).

MIS isn't scheduled to ship for another 3 to 4 months. Early adopters are using beta 1 of the software and are eagerly awaiting the beta 2 version that will ship by the end of the month. MIS will be comprised of four versions and components:

  • Mobile Information 2001 Server Enterprise Edition: The baseline server product
  • Mobile Information 2001 Server Carrier Edition: Provides a two-tier server architecture from which you connect to the wireless carrier's diverse data center infrastructure
  • Microsoft Outlook Mobile Access: Similar in functionality to Outlook Web Access (OWA) for the Internet; extends Microsoft Exchange to the wireless device
  • Outlook Mobile Manager: A PC desktop application that connects the Outlook desktop with the mobile user and acts as an enhanced wireless notification agent to deliver functionality above and beyond what's available in Outlook Mobile Access

Now, back to the future. Last week, while I was visiting Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, campus, I watched an exciting demonstration of .NET Mobile Web software development kit (SDK) beta 2 (which will ship with Visual Studio.NET). Lead Program Manager Susan Chory demonstrated a Visual Basic (VB)-looking interface in Visual Studio, where she dragged and dropped controls onto a form and set some properties to attach to SQL Server. Writing very little, if any, code, she built (compiled) the program using .NET Mobile Web SDK's UI. She then demonstrated the application she'd just built on a Pocket PC running Windows CE 3.0. "That's pretty cool," I thought to myself, "because writing the code that appropriately renders to Internet Explorer's (IE's) Windows CE 3.0 version can be a pain."

The .NET Mobile Web SDK automatically handled the code. Next, Chory demonstrated something that blew me away. As she picked up a cell phone with WAP capability, I thought to myself, "No way!" She navigated to the same Web application on her cell phone and then demonstrated the same application on the WAP device! Because we write a lot of WAP applications at Interknowlogy, I know just how difficult it is to write wireless applications that properly render the capabilities of the devices that touch them. .NET Mobile Web SDK beta 2 automatically performs this function for you. Instead of delivering a limited set of HTML that is supported by a CE 3.0 device, .NET Mobile Web SDK beta 2 automatically senses a WAP device and delivers Wireless Markup Language (WML)—a structured version of XML that WAP devices understand—to a cell phone with a total screen area of three lines by 24 characters.

"The .NET Mobile Web SDK is built on the .NET Framework, Visual Studio.NET, and IIS," Chory says. "It is the server-side components of the SDK that run on IIS that know how to render the content correctly for a variety of devices. When these applications are deployed in an enterprise environment, MIS provides mobile access to these applications."

If you're like me, you're heavily involved in setting up and configuring IIS on developer networks that—at their heart—contain beta versions of the .NET Framework. As a result of Microsoft's .NET Early Adopter Programs, this summer, production applications built on beta versions of the .NET Framework will go live on the Internet. Look for my upcoming article in IIS Administrator print newsletter about how to architect and build applications using Mobile Web Controls from .NET Mobile Web SDK and the .NET Framework as your foundation.

Download .NET Mobile Web SDK beta 1 from the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site (in the SDK section). Short of the cool Visual Studio integration (coming in beta 2 and downloadable from the same location), beta 1 has everything you need to write powerful mobile applications.

For more information about MIS, visit Microsoft's Web site.

For more information about how you, the IIS administrator, can extend mail, contact, task, and calendar capabilities to wireless devices with small form factors (extending Outlook to the cell phone), I encourage you to read Christa Anderson's excellent article in Application Service Provider UPDATE (available on the Windows 2000 Magazine Web site).

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