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New Microsoft tools aim for mobile boost

The software titan is set to announce new tools for building software for cell phones and personal digital assistants.

    Microsoft on Monday will announce new tools for building software for cell phones and personal digital assistants.

    The software maker will debut a second test version of its .Net Compact Framework, a programming infrastructure for writing Web services software for mobile devices.

    The software will be built into a forthcoming new version of Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net development tool package, allowing programmers for the first time to use the same tools to build software for PCs, servers and mobile devices. Previously, programmers needed to buy or download a separate development tool package for mobile devices. The more general .Net Framework for software that runs on PCs and servers is already built into Visual Studio.Net.

    "The .Net Compact Framework allows desktop developers to transfer their skills down to devices. Before, it was an arcane art for a well-trained few," said David Rasmussen, lead product manager for Microsoft's .Net mobile developer platform.

    Also this week, the software maker is releasing a test version of its latest Visual Studio.Net tools suite, code-named Everett, with the .Net Compact Framework built in. While the final version of .Net Compact Framework should be completed this fall, Everett should be released by the end of the year or early next year, Rasmussen said.

    The new technology gives Microsoft a boost in the software market for mobile devices, where it is lagging behind rival Java software sold by the likes of Sun Microsystems, IBM, Oracle and others. Motorola, Nokia and many other major cellular phone manufacturers are using software that supports Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME).

    Microsoft and the Java companies are duking it out in the emerging market for Web services, a method of writing software that allows businesses to interact via the Internet.

    "Microsoft has some significant ground to make up in terms of mind share and market share. But J2ME developers still lack good tools for building graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to a range of devices," said Illuminata analyst James Governor. "Never write off Microsoft. If there's one vendor that understands GUIs and tools for building them, it's (Microsoft). The Compact Framework is an attractive proposition because it's a single development model, deployable to multiple devices."

    The second test version of the .Net Compact Framework offers bug fixes and new features for building user interfaces, such as hand-writing recognition, Rasmussen said.

    Microsoft's .Net Framework and .Net Compact Framework are crucial pieces of Microsoft's overarching .Net Web services plan. Microsoft says that .Net simplifies Windows programming by automating many development tasks to enable software to run on a myriad of devices. Because the .Net plan includes prewritten software code, it can save developers' time, simplify a confusing array of programming interfaces and eliminate common bugs, analysts said.

    To further strengthen its offerings in the device market, Microsoft on Monday also released a new version of its mobile database software for handheld devices. SQL Server CE Edition 2.0, downloadable free from Microsoft's Web site, is technology that stores and collects information. It allows employees using handhelds to connect to their corporate networks, download data, work offline and then connect to the network again to sync their work.

    The new version of SQL Server CE Edition runs faster than previous versions and supports .Net Compact Framework, Rasmussen said.