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Microsoft to help track mobile workers

A new service from the software giant and AT&T Wireless will let businesses use cell phones to locate workers on the road, such as taxi drivers, and more efficiently route them to clients.

    Microsoft and AT&T Wireless on Wednesday will show off a new service that will let businesses use cell phones to track the location of workers on the road, such as taxi drivers or express couriers, and more efficiently route them to customers.

    At the DEMOmobile 2002 conference in La Jolla, Calif., Microsoft will demonstrate new server software, tentatively called the Microsoft Enterprise Location Server, that connects Microsoft .Net software services with AT&T Wireless' next-generation network.

    It is the first product developed by the two technology giants since they formed an alliance in July. The partnership spans three areas: getting Microsoft software onto new devices, simplifying access to corporate information over wireless devices and enabling location-based services.

    John Montgomery, a Microsoft product manager, said the technology will let a business find a worker on the road who is nearest to a particular customer. For example, he said, a copier service might use the technology to more quickly dispatch a repair person to a customer?s location. The business "knows where (repair people) are because the repair people have granted the corporate dispatcher privileges to locate their cell phones. The dispatcher calls the one closest to the customer and is able to give them directions to the customer" location.

    The scenario encompasses a handful of technologies including Microsoft's .Net Compact Framework, a programming infrastructure for writing Web services software for mobile devices, and Extensible Markup Language (XML) Web services, an emerging way to build software that allows businesses to interact via the Internet.

    AT&T Wireless is currently in trials with a service that tracks cell phone locations. Microsoft offers a hosted Web service, called MapPoint.Net, which allows businesses to add mapping capabilities to their applications, so people can get a map or location through any device, including personal digital assistants and cell phones.

    Microsoft's Enterprise Location Server takes all the various pieces--the MapPoint service and the AT&T service for finding cell phone locations--and integrates them on a corporate network.

    Microsoft has yet to announce prices or the release date for Enterprise Location Server. AT&T's own cell phone location service is expected to launch early next year, Microsoft executives said.