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Microsoft pulls SQL Server into CE ring

Microsoft is scrambling to clear up its Windows CE picture to appeal to software makers and corporate developers as non-PC devices continue to gain momentum.

Microsoft is scrambling to clear up its Windows CE picture to appeal to software makers and corporate developers as non-PC devices continue to gain momentum.

The company today said it will bring its flagship SQL Server database to the slimmed-down operating system, and introduced a new data access architecture, called Global Data Access, that's intended to make CE more developer friendly.

Microsoft has for the most part unified the development Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) on its Windows NT and Windows 95/98 operating systems, so that developers can write an application for one OS and run it on the other.

But Windows CE has remained a related, but somewhat different cousin, incompatible in some ways with the company's other operating systems. In order to deploy Windows applications on CE, developers need to learn new APIs and development models. That's an impediment that Microsoft, which plans to use CE in everything from set-top boxes to factory-floor computers, can't afford to have.

By building a CE version of SQL Server, and moving its key data access APIs, such as OLE DB, to Windows CE, Microsoft removes some--but not all--of those hurdles. "The goal is to make it easy for developers to build solutions on [Windows] with a consistent programming model on every platform," said Barry Goffe, a Microsoft product manager.

However, while Windows 95/98, Windows NT, and Windows CE support the Win32 API, Windows CE only supports a subset of Win32, and includes its own unique interfaces. Windows 95/98 and Windows NT applications can be ported to Windows CE, but require some tweaking. "There are still nuances, but the majority of work is consistent. A SQL query--a select or update--will work the same on Windows NT, 98, or Windows CE," said Goffe.

With interest surging in handheld devices for mobile sales, field service, and manufacturing applications, Microsoft is doubling its efforts to make sure all of its core Windows technologies are consistent.

"The innovation on the hardware side is driving the [software] market," said Goffe.

The company also wants to make sure its cash-cow SQL Server database runs on all versions of Windows. The Windows CE announcement today is the latest in what is becoming a database war to corner sales on mobile and other non-PC systems.

Last month, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Data Engine for Visual Studio 6.0, a database engine based on SQL Server 7.0's core technology, intended for developers using Microsoft's Visual Studio tools to build mobile applications that link to central corporate data stores, and for designing systems that can be "upsized" to SQL Server as data stores grow.

Earlier in the same week, both Oracle and IBM said they will soon ship new mobile databases that allow remote workers to link to corporate networks via laptops and handheld PCs. Sybase has been shipping mobile and embedded database software for several years and is considered the market leader.

Part of the reason for the newfound interest in pint-sized hardware is that most database providers are facing slowing sales of their full-featured database servers. The coming boom in non-PC devices with tight memory requirements presents a ripe new market for mobile versions of database software for linking the increasing numbers of mobile workers to the home office.

SQL Server for Windows CE is in early testing, said Goffe. Microsoft plans to release a beta test version in the first quarter of next year. Pricing and final packaging have not been determined, Goffe said.

To make data transfer and synchronization easier, Microsoft plans to include a data replication tool that will work with similar tools included with the Windows NT and Windows 95/98 versions of the database, according to Goffe.

The Global Data Access architecture is based on Microsoft's ActiveX Data Objects (ADO), used by Visual Basic and other Windows developers, and OLE DB, a low-level API that's also SQL Server's native data interface. The architecture unifies Windows CE's database foundation. Data access components of the architecture are slated to ship in beta form later this year.

Also today, Sybase and Simba Technologies pledged to ship products based on the architecture.