Microsoft's Embedded Mobile Software Will Leverage the Cloud

Microsoft's emerging wireless strategy may seem disjointed and ill-planned, with a growing list of platforms that ranges from Windows Phone 7 to the Kin smartphone to Windows Mobile 6.5 and even Windows Embedded Compact 7.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer took a swing at clarifying at least the embedded part of the overall strategy for enterprise IT decision makers on Thursday, when he announced a strategic plan that includes two emerging platforms for embedded handheld devices.

However, Microsoft officials left some questions unanswered, including how applications written for one platform would be able to provide a "clear migration path" to the other.

"Our Windows Embedded Business is focused on extending Windows and the benefits of cloud computing to the world of specialized devices," Ballmer said at the New York debut of Motorola's (NYSE: MOT) new ES400 Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA).

The ES400 sports an embedded operating system built on Window Mobile 6.5.

"The ES400 EDA enables workers in field service, field sales, retail, healthcare, utilities, manufacturing, transportation/distribution and small- and medium-sized businesses to collect data and access business-critical applications and back-end systems on the spot," a Motorola statement said.

As part of the announcement, Ballmer said that Microsoft is putting investments into a new brand he called Windows Embedded Handheld. The first release under the new brand name will come later this year, which is when Motorola said it will ship the ES400 EDA.

Ballmer's words may help to assuage some anxiety for mobile developers as well as IT staff responsible for embedded device deployment and support in the enterprise. Until now, many of those people have been wondering whether work they've done on Windows Mobile devices was headed for the technology trash heap.

After Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 in March, many users, developers, and OEMs were not pleased to learn that applications written for Windows Mobile 6.5, which first began shipping in September, will not run on Windows Phone 7 devices -- the first of which are due out before the end of calendar 2010.

The new branding also embraces other work that Microsoft has done in the embedded operating system space, including the recent community technology preview (CTP) of Windows Embedded Compact 7, which was released on June 1.

Therefore, another version of Windows Embedded Handheld, this one based on Windows Embedded Compact 7, is slated to be released in the second half of calendar 2011, the company said.

"For users, this means OEMs can take enterprise handheld devices -- like the ones you see store employees using when you're out shopping -- and create something extraordinary," said a Microsoft statement.

Can mobile devices enhance key line of business applications?

"These devices can vary greatly in functionality, but imagine the potential to enhance key LOB [line of business] applications with the rich, immersive user experiences of touch or gesture response, plus enhanced connectivity to Windows-based PCs, servers and enterprise services," the statement continued.

Additionally, Microsoft is at least giving lip service to the idea that it will provide a "clear migration path" from applications built using Visual Studio 2008 and Windows Forms to a new application platform based on the Silverlight streaming media technology, XNA gaming technology, and Visual Studio 2010.

How Microsoft will bring about that smooth migration, however, remains unclear. A Microsoft spokesperson did not explain how the company will overcome the inability to run Windows Mobile apps on Windows Embedded Compact 7, which is based on Windows 7.

"Currently, Microsoft is not providing further details," the spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Microsoft, mobile, Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows CE