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Gates woos developers for wireless

At Microsoft's mobile developers conference, Chairman Bill Gates outlines a strategy to bring mainstream developers into the wireless realm.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates Wednesday unveiled plans to help developers more easily create applications for mobile devices that use the company's operating system software.

At a speech at the Microsoft Mobility Developer conference in New Orleans, Gates gave details about the company's tools for building applications that run on handheld devices. Microsoft hopes the software will entice developers, particularly those in corporations, to write customized business applications using Microsoft's Pocket PC and Smartphone operating systems.

"We want to make it easy for the 7 million Windows developers to build applications and services for the emerging wireless data market by providing familiar, yet customized tools," Gates said in a statement. "It's truly an exciting time for mobile application developers and the industry--there are incredible opportunities."

Microsoft is battling with the likes of Sun Microsystems, PalmSource, and Qualcomm to be the preferred software embedded in a growing array of gadgets and cell phones.

To promote usage of its operating systems, Microsoft will release development tools that it says will simplify the process of creating applications for handhelds based on those OSes.

The company announced Wednesday that the Visual Studio.Net development tool, set for release with Windows Server 2003 on April 24, will include the .Net Compact Framework for building mobile applications.

The .Net Compact Framework is essentially a slimmed-down version of Microsoft's .Net Framework, which provides the underlying software "plumbing" to build and run applications that adhere to Web services protocols. Web services is a term to describe programming methods and standards for building applications that can easily share information.

A standalone version of .Net Compact Framework is currently available for testing only.

Visual Studio.Net, which is Microsoft's most popular developers tool, lets programmers construct applications for devices based on Pocket PC. Without this tool, programmers needed more specialized skills in the Pocket PC operating system.

Microsoft said Pocket PC's support for Web services will make it easier for applications to share information with corporate computer systems. For example, a Visual Studio.Net developer could build a Web services application that would give a traveling salesperson the latest customer information from a Internet-connected Pocket PC.

Microsoft intends to extend the reach of the .Net Compact Framework to its Smartphone operating system as well.

The Smartphone connection
On Wednesday Gates showed off a prototype of the .Net Compact Framework running on a device based on Microsoft's Smartphone software. That combination means programmers will be able to use Visual Studio.Net, rather than more difficult, specialized tools, to build applications that run on Smartphones. The .Net programming software will be included with the next major version of the Smartphone operating system, Microsoft executives said.

The mobile development tie-in to Visual Studio.Net will be most beneficial to corporate programmers who are already familiar with Microsoft's tools, said David Rasmussen, lead product manager for the .Net mobile developers platform.

Rasmussen compared the rise in usage of mobile devices to the adoption of the personal computer in the 1980s, when corporate developers saw the potential for using PCs for automating business tasks.

When the .Net Compact Framework ships with Visual Studio.Net, developers who are accustomed to building applications for PCs will have an easier time writing business applications for mobile devices, he said.

Microsoft is also hoping to entice developers with a give-away. It plans to hand out ViewSonic Pocket PCs to the first 25,000 developers who purchase Visual Studio.Net 2003. The hope is that having an actual Pocket PC will make it easier to test mobile applications.

Those ViewSonic Pocket PC devices will have the .Net Compact Framework burned into the machine's ROM (read-only memory) for faster performance. In the next upgrade to the Pocket PC operating system, all Pocket PCs will have the .Net software embedded in the same way onto the machine, Rasmussen said.