The software maker said on Tuesday that it has posted a test version of its .Net Compact Framework, a programming infrastructure for writing mobile device Web services software, along with additional mobile device tools, to its Web site.
The .Net Compact Framework works in conjunction with Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net tools to let developers write Windows-based Web services programs to run on cell phones, personal digital assistants and other wireless mobile devices powered by the company's Windows CE and Windows CE.Net operating systems.
Microsoft has already made available the more general .Net Framework for PCs and server systems running Windows XP and Windows 2000. With the .Net Compact Framework, Microsoft said developers can use Visual Studio.Net tools to write software that can run on mobile devices, PCs or server systems. Currently, developers must use special versions of Microsoft's Visual Basic and Visual C++ tools to write programs for mobile devices.
"The Microsoft developer base has been asking for this type of unified development toolkit for a while," said John Montgomery, a product manager at Microsoft.
Montgomery said he expects a large audience for the new tools. Last week, the companyit has shipped more than 1 million copies of Visual Studio.Net, which was in February.
The .Net Framework is a crucial piece of Microsoft's overarching .Net strategy. It simplifies Windows programming by automating many development tasks to enable software to run across multiple servers and computers.
Because the .Net Framework includes prewritten code, it can save developers time, simplify a confusing array of programming interfaces, and eliminate common bugs, analysts said. It also includes the Common Language Runtime, which is a universal engine that will allow software developers to use many types of programming languages to write Windows applications.
Both the .Net Compact Framework test release and the .Net Framework are available for free download from Microsoft's Web site.
Microsoft, which has spentof dollars to develop and promote its .Net initiative, says Web services will provide more efficient ways for companies to build software to more easily transact business.
Other software makers, including Sun Microsystems, IBM and many smaller companies, also offer Web services development tools and software. The most basic Web services link servers over the Internet to exchange data and combine information in new ways. These services run on Web-based servers instead of on individual PCs, allowing people to use them through any device that has Internet access, including cellular phones and handheld computing gadgets, as well as desktop and notebook computers.
The .Net strategy spans Microsoft's entire product family, from the Windows operating system to its online properties such as MSN for consumers and bCentral for small businesses.
The company has also outlined a plan to wade into the consumer area with an initiative called .Net My Services, which eventually will allow consumers to access their personal information online on any device and do everything from shopping and banking to checking their e-mail and calendar. But the initiative has beendue to internal debates over a proper business model and a lack of industry support.