Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates committed to "significant" investments in mobility platforms during a keynote kick-off for the Microsoft Mobility Developers conference.
"We are in significant investment mode," Gates told conference attendees gathered here Wednesday evening. "We are going to invest, invest and invest to make our [mobile] platform the most popular platform."
Gates characterized mobile computing as a market that "will be the fastest moving of all of our businesses." Microsoft, he said, will spend a "significant" amount of research and development in this area.
To kick-start the program, Microsoft unveiled the final version of the .Net Compact Framework that will be included in Visual Studio .Net 2003. Microsoft's .Net Compact Framework, a subset of the .Net framework, is a platform designed to simplify application development for Pocket PCs and Smartphones.
Microsoft is set to release a version of Visual Studio .Net some time in the next couple of months that will incorporate the .Net Compact Framework and other mobile capabilities, including ASP.Net controls to give developers rich forms ability that work across multiple devices. Over time, Gates said, the .Net Compact Framework would be built into mobile devices.
To "evangelize" its mobility development efforts, said Gates, Microsoft is giving away 25,000 Pocket PCs with the .Net Compact Framework to developers of Visual Studio to test their own applications. For more information on how to qualify for the Pocket PCs solution providers can go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/getpocketpc.
On the Smartphone side, Microsoft introduced Wednesday a developer kit that includes a Smartphone device so developers can see how their applications look on a smaller screen.
"We want to help developers with all the different aspects of their activities such as tools to develop and test their applications and certification programs such as Mobile to Market, which is a complete catalog of all of these applications," Gates said.
At the same time, Gates said Microsoft is encouraging companies to build components that help developers work with wireless operators to a offer a catalogue of applications customers can easily download. Sprint, for example, plans to make available to its customers a catalog of applications developed by third parties. About 100 applications developed in the United States and Europe are now in the catalog, according to Sprint.
"The success of [mobility solutions] depends on all the players," said Gates. "That includes mobile operators, systems integrators, OEMs, developers, silicon vendors and software platform developers. All this needs to come together."
The weak link in this effort at the moment is the lack of interoperability between devices, said Gates. On the positive side, he said hardware continues to advance. "The computing capacity of mobile devices today is 20 times that of the original PC," he said. "A lot of information can be store on these devices now and soon you'll have screens on every phone, and the voice and data worlds will be less divided than they are today."
Key ingredients in moving the mobility/wireless effort forward are Web services, Wi-Fi deployment, linking PCs to the phones, intelligent communications, and the resolution of data connectivity issues, he said.
Regarding Wi-Fi, Gates said, several issues remain unresolved. The most prominent problems are finding a way to generate revenue from Wi-Fi services as well as reducing fragmentation in the market, improving quality of service and providing an ability to seamlessly roam between different types of networks.
"Wi-Fi is clearly happening though in corporations, homes, hotels and airports and with more speed it will clearly be moving up," Gates said.
Gates said that of all the PDA platforms in the United States, 55 percent are currently Windows based, giving Microsoft significantly more market share than the Symbian and Palm operating systems.
"We're just at the beginning and the sky is the limit for developers."