Microsoft's CeBIT: Stinger on show as .Net gets plugged

Microsoft needed to talk a good mobile story at CeBIT. The demo gremlins didn't help, but MS still managed to bang the drum a little for .Net

At a CeBIT press conference plagued by more than its fair share of demo gremlins (much to the amusement of the audience), Microsoft today expounded its vision of the mobile Internet.

To no-one's surprise, that vision is heavily tied into Microsoft's .Net strategy, with Microsoft software -- including the recently announced HailStorm -- helping to create robust mobile services that will provide business users and consumers with easy access to information when on the move. Microsoft, which claims to have created partnerships with enough mobile operators to cover 90 per cent of all wireless subscribers worldwide, sees its role as an enabler of value-added services to a wireless industry desperate to maximise revenue following the recent massive outlay on 3G licences.

You have not seen anything yet, said Microsoft vice-president Juha Christensen, referring to the software and services currently available on Microsoft-powered devices. To kick-start the development of new products, Microsoft has set up four Mobile Solution Centres worldwide, the European one being located in Stockholm.

At CeBIT, Microsoft announced the creation of the first .Net-based wireless enterprise portal, in partnership with Germany's T-Mobil mobile operator. The portal will include news searches, Web browsing, email and messaging, and also provide a framework for the development of corporate wireless ASP services.

Key to this and other developments is Microsoft's Stinger smartphone platform, several examples of which were on public show for the first time. Running a modified version of Windows CE 3.0 optimised for smaller screens and one-handed operation, Stinger phones will be available from Samsung, Sendo, Trium and HTC (maker of Compaq·s iPAQ) later this year.

In a demonstration of Outlook Mobile Manager, Microsoft showed off features such as Intellishrink, which uses natural language processing to compress text for mobile phone screens. You can choose options such as removing spaces, replacing long words with abbreviations, removing punctuation and, finally, removing vowels. Outlook Mobile Manager also lets you set up profiles with different rules for email notifications and can 'learn' which messages are important to you and forward the appropriate ones to your mobile device. If your business also runs Microsoft's Mobile Information 2001 Server, you can get email, reminders and notifications on any text-enabled mobile device.

For those with richer data requirements, there's the Pocket PC, which has been out for a year now. Convergence devices that combine a Pocket PC with a mobile phone are currently all the rage, and Sagem, Siemens and Trium were all showing such devices. The new Siemens 'Andromeda' is the first with a 16-bit colour screen and dual expansion slots (CompactFlash and MMC). Demonstrations, one of which was entertainingly curtailed by a low battery warning, included live streaming audio from the Web, mobile instant messaging and a location-based service called TomTom. To develop further mobile services, Microsoft announced that it will set up Centres of Mobile Business Excellence jointly with Siemens Business Services, in Europe and the US. These will create .Net-based solutions, starting with an online travel booking system.

Microsoft is bullish about its prospects in the mobile Internet, and points to a combined Compaq/HP Pocket PC market share of 31 per cent in Europe. However, Palm and its licensees still dominate the handheld space, so there' s plenty of life in this battle yet.

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