Microsoft has introduced a server designed to give companies a way to wireless-enable applications for access from any number of handheld devices.
The Mobility Inform-ation Server (MIS) 2000 is middleware that transforms output from corporate applications into formats that can be displayed on mobile phones and other handheld devices. The server, which was code-named Airstream, also is a platform for building new wireless-enabled applications.
The server will be a central point for establishing what devices can connect to the network, managing user access and security across the corporate firewall, and setting content-delivery preferences for devices such as Palm Pilots, Windows CE computers and mobile phones.
"There is a functionality gap in the Microsoft line up," says Warren Wilson, an analyst with Summit Strategies. He says Microsoft currently has the application servers and the clients, such as Pocket PC and the Stinger smart phones, currently under development but lacks the glue to tie the two together.
"Clearly Microsoft needs to add this [ingredient] - mobile access is a huge part of their new .Net initiative," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with FarPoint Group. In June, Microsoft introduced its .Net platform as part of its strategy for delivering software as services available over the Internet from any computing device.
On the wireless server front, Microsoft needs to catch up with a number of vendors, including IBM and Oracle, that have already launched such products. It is a key development area for Microsoft, given that by 2004, 70 per cent of cellular phones and 80 per cent of new PDAs will feature some form of access to the Internet, according to the Gartner Group.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will officially unveil MIS 2000 during his keynote address at the company's Enterprise 2000 event in San Francisco.
At the event, Microsoft will officially launch Windows 2000 Datacentre, the last of the four versions of the operating system.
It will also formally rename its line of seven enterprise servers, including Exchange, SQL, BizTalk, and the .Net enterprise servers, and add MIS 2000 to the mix.
But IT executives shouldn't look for MIS 2000 anytime soon.
MIS is currently in the alpha stage, with a beta planned before year-end and commercial availability slated for next year, according to sources.
In March, IBM released software called WebSphere Transco-ding Publisher, which transforms content to match the capabilities of mobile devices.
Oracle has a similar piece of middleware, called Portal-to-Go, which is XML-based and transforms data into various formats for mobile devices. Smaller companies such as Every-Path, Aether Systems and Marbles also offer software for transcoding data for wireless devices.
While MIS 2000 is technically similar to offerings from IBM and Oracle, it is unlikely to have cross-platform support. IBM supports Unix, Linux and Windows platforms.
IBM also plans to add voice as an interface next month, says Ed Harbour, director of marketing for WebSphere. It is unclear if Microsoft will have voice support in MIS 2000, but it does not plan to offer speech recognition in Windows 2000 until some time in 2002.
The likely software won't be cheap, either. IBM's Publisher costs $US20,000 per processor.
MIS 2000 works by taking in application data from servers and transforming it into formats, such as the Wireless Markup Language or compact HTML, for presentation on wireless devices.
Essential to the data transformation is the Extensible Stylesheet Language, which provides information to identify what type of device is requesting information and what kind of network it is running on.
The server also includes Microsoft Message Queuing to support asynchronous delivery of data to devices, without a persistent connection.