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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp extended its hand of friendship to operators and developers yesterday with the beta release of the mobile extension to its .NET software architecture, along with the launch of a new certification and delivery program,

Tony Cripps writes

.

The beta release of the .NET Compact Framework, the most overt extension of Microsoft's much-hyped .NET architecture into the wireless world so far, may help Microsoft's cause with operators, given the promise of new applications from the company's vast and loyal developer network.

The .NET Compact Framework unifies for the first time the programming model environment of Microsoft-powered mobile devices with their desktop and server cousins and could result in an explosion of wireless applications using the technology. This will be helped by beta availability of Smart Device Extensions (SDE) for Visual Studio .NET, which tightly integrates wireless application development with Microsoft's common development environment.

Under Microsoft's certification initiative, called Mobile2Market announced yesterday, ISVs can have applications certified as compliant with Microsoft's security and network testing guidelines. ISVs can then display the "Designed for Windows Powered PC/Smartphone" logo. Operators can extend this certification process if they wish.

Application certification will cost $1,400 according to Anne Marie Duffy, wireless and mobility marketing manager for Microsoft UK and Ireland.

The testing process itself will be carried out by Microsoft-approved testing houses, including Handango Inc, QualityLogic Inc and Lionbridge Technologies Inc's VeriTest unit. In addition, Hurst, Texas-based Handango will take responsibility for cataloguing applications and can even deliver them if an operator prefers not to host the website itself. The company will also interface with operators' billing infrastructures.

Mobile2Market could be a godsend for hard-pressed ISVs and mobile operators that are keen to start offering wireless applications and services to consumers. In comparison, the approach typically adopted for the rival Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) technology tends to see mobile operators dealing with the complexities of compliance and delivery issues in-house.

This factor has almost certainly contributed to the slow deployment of the technology. As such, Microsoft's initiative may induce at least some operators to rethink their mobile applications strategies if their J2ME plans are not well advanced.

The launch of Mobile2Market and .NET Compact Framework fill in some missing pieces of Microsoft's overall wireless strategy. But one area that remains unclear is whether the company will extend its .NET vision beyond devices using its own operating systems to embrace alternative wireless device platforms, such as Symbian OS, Palm OS or Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd's BlackBerry.

While the company offers its Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit (MMIT) which promises to "project applications to any kind of mobile device with a browser", that only includes applications based on XML-based web services protocols and not future applications that will make use of a device bound .Net runtime components or the .NET-compatible SQL Server 2000 Windows CE Edition database.

However, such a decision may prove shrewd: Microsoft's chances of dominating the wireless space in the way they own the desktop look slim.

Currently, Microsoft has not made public any plans to port these components to wireless platforms other than its own. But there are indication s that they might. "Today we're supporting Pocket PC and Smartphone," said Duffy. "We will be supporting other platforms for vision but we haven't announced them yet."

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