Microsoft beefs up mobile platform

Microsoft is adding new dev tools and mobile business applications to Windows Mobile

Microsoft is at the start of a two-year plan designed to give remote and telecommuting users the power of their desktop in handheld devices by more deeply integrating the company's mobile platform with collaboration software, online services and development tools.

The plan took a significant leap forward this month when Microsoft released Version 6.0 of its Windows CE operating system, which is the foundation ofthe Windows Mobile operating system and the launchpad for a more diverse selection of corporate mobile applications.

Microsoft currently has two versions of Windows Mobile on the drawing board, including a major version upgrade code-named Photon that incorporates CE 6.0 and is set to ship at the end of 2007 to OEMs and be available on phones and PDAs in the first half of 2008. Next month, Microsoft plans to ship to OEMs Crossbow, the code name for an upgrade to the current Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, which is scheduled to be available on devices in the first half of 2007.

The company says Windows CE 6.0 architecture and performance upgrades will provide support for more advanced multimedia, Web services and wireless network tools.

That's the shot in the arm that Microsoft needs, experts say.

Currently, Windows Mobile runs on more than 100 phones from 47 devices makers, according to Microsoft. Some 115 service providers around the world provide users with devices that run Windows Mobile.

Mobile market challenge

But the mobile market has been a challenge for Microsoft, which has struggled to distinguish itself from competitors such as Nokia, Openwave Systems, Palm, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, and Symbian.

The struggle is encapsulated in the revenue numbers of Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded division. While revenue was up 44 percent between fiscal 2005 and 2006, only in 2006 has the division shown an operating profit, which was US$2 million. By comparison, the division lost US$65 million in 2005 and US$237 million in 2004.

Microsoft plans to keep moving forward on the back of its improved Mobile platforms anchored by CE, and via its hallmark knockout punch -- integration with Visual Studio development tools in the hope of exciting application developers.

With 6.0, CE's Platform Builder application developer tools now plug into Visual Studio 2005's integrated development environment and give developers a single tool to create applications for many form factors.

The recipe calls for smart phones and PocketPCs, which run Windows Mobile, to become a staple of corporate life, which is where the challenge for Microsoft comes in.

"Microsoft is not getting huge wins in the enterprise," says Mike Disabato, vice president and service director for network and telecom strategies at the Burton Group. "They need those wins so they can point to them, but right now all they have are some minor applications that people are using but don't want to talk about."

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