Microsoft Corp. continues to do the right things - or at least say the right things - when it comes to mobile and wireless computing in the enterprise.
At the Microsoft .Net Mobility and Wireless Solutions Conference in Dallas, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled a project called "Mobile Workplace," aimed at enterprise wireless deployments.
It's not, as they say, rocket science. Mobile Workplace enlists a set of big systems integrators and other technology partners, and features Microsoft software for building and managing a mobile infrastructure.
The integrators are the usual suspects: Hewlett-Packard Co. Services, Accenture Ltd., Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, and Microsoft's own consulting group. Microsoft is putting together a standard package that will let corporate users set up help desks and centralize support for an array of mobile vendors. IT groups also will have the option of outsourcing their entire mobile infrastructure, applications and support to one of the integrators.
With its partners, Microsoft plans to take a "solutions" approach - crafting bundles of software, hardware and best practices that will let integrators deploy mobile systems for specific applications, whether they're general horizontal apps like electronic mail, or specialized vertical apps like sales management for pharmaceutical companies.
The first coordinated offering, due out this fall, will be "Mobile Messaging," which will let big enterprises extend e-mail and messaging to Microsoft-based client devices, such as handheld computers with the PocketPC operating system, or Web-enabled cell phones using the Smartphone operating system.
The idea of an enterprisewide deployment that can span various types of wireless nets to tie mobile workers more closely to corporate data could prove very appealing to network executives. Wireless messaging is an application the utility and payback of which is almost instantly understandable, and it can serve as foundation for additional applications and Web services crafted with the Microsoft .Net technologies.
What's intriguing about Mobile Workplace is that it plays to Microsoft's expertise as a "platform provider" - a company that makes possible a business-oriented infrastructure that, in this case, extends corporate resources to new classes of users.
At almost the same time, Microsoft also announced plans for a line of IEEE 802.11b network products for the consumer and small business market. What's significant, again, is Microsoft's emphasis on simplifying wireless networking to the point where it simply becomes an invisible feature of an array of devices that work together, without requiring extensive manual configuration, changes, and updates. The products, though no details were announced, will let users' client devices find and connect to shared DSL or cable modems in a home, among other things.
This same approach is what's needed in the corporate market - the recognition that whatever the shape of future wireless nets, employees will want to make use of them as quickly and as easily as possible. Wireless networking becomes a utility, just as the telephone system is today.
When our old portable phone finally gave up the ghost recently, I bought a new one with the set of features we wanted, plugged it into the wall, added a welcome message, set the time, checked how to work the voicemail features and the thing just worked.
Microsoft is on a similar course for wireless computing in the enterprise. And it's the right course for network executives.