SQL Server CE: Wave of the Future?

I love cookies—the kind you eat, not the kind in my browser. If you love cookies as much as I do, you'll welcome Microsoft's recent release of SQL Server CE for the Pocket PC. Microsoft announced SQL Server CE's official availability during the keynote speech at last week's PASS 2000 North America Conference and Expo. Microsoft and Nabisco then demonstrated a new application that Nabisco drivers use to ensure that cookies and other snack foods get from distributors to stores on time and with fewer errors. (In my book, any technology that helps me get cookies faster is great news!) You probably don't sell snacks, but many businesses are suitable candidates for leveraging SQL Server CE's tight data and tool integration with SQL Server and other Microsoft development tools. Imagining interesting uses for SQL Server CE isn't hard; most people who aren't tied to their desks are potential buyers of database-enabled, handheld computing devices.

I've been wrong before, but I believe that SQL Server CE is one of the most important tools in Microsoft's quest for dominance in the handheld computing market. Today, Palm Pilot devices have a huge deployment lead over Windows CE technology (including the Pocket PC), but I think that most people use their Palms as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). I haven't seen the market use the Palm as an integrated tool for corporate computing networks. I won't argue whether Windows CE is better than the Palm OS and its related devices, but at the very least, most people (even my friends who own Palms) admit that the newest Pocket PC incarnations are good enough to threaten the Palm in the PDA market. But revenue from a PDA market pales in comparison to revenue opportunities from business-integration opportunities. Regardless of Microsoft's ability to compete in the PDA market, Pocket PCs have a huge advantage in the business-integration market. Given a choice, most technical folks like simplicity and will select tools they're already familiar with. And like it or not, Windows developers can't leverage many of their tool skills if they decide to develop for the Palm. On the other hand, the Pocket PC relies on a development suite called eMbedded Visual Tools, which uses SQL Server CE as the disconnected data store. eMbedded Tools is familiar to Visual Studio fans, and SQL Server CE is very similar to the full version of SQL Server. If your company develops for Windows, should you expect your developers to learn an entirely new paradigm or let them use the familiar Microsoft tools they're already comfortable with?

SQL Server CE expertise will be a valuable addition to your professional tool box. Wireless computing is a huge growth area, and someone will have to build the applications. I don't see large, pent-up demand for wireless applications just yet, but it's only a matter of time. When demand perks up, much of the corporate world will choose the wireless platform that most closely resembles its wired development environments and—for better or worse—that means Windows CE, or WinCE. (Let's hope we won't have to wince when people start building real applications in WinCE. )

By the way, you can develop SQL Server CE applications even if you don't have a Windows CE device. Just download the software and use a standard desktop to get your feet wet with this technology. Here are some Microsoft resources to help you get started with SQL Server CE:

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