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Microsoft and IBM's mobile Web services strategy

In this second part of a two-part column about the future of mobile Web services, we'll take a look at the strategies of Microsoft and IBM with regard to the technology.

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Continued from Part One

Does the future of Web services lie in mobile devices? In large part, the answer will come from IBM and Microsoft, the two primary drivers behind the development of Web services standards. Each company in its own way sees a future in which Web services are accessible from anywhere via cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and devices that have yet to be dreamed up.

In this second part of a two-part column about the future of mobile Web services, we'll take a look at Microsoft and IBM's strategies for the technology.

The world according to Microsoft
Microsoft has been probably the most aggressive company of all in promoting mobile Web services. Its strategy includes not only current products, but a roadmap that stretches well into the future.

As we've seen in my previous column on mobile Web services, the technology is still a nascent one. And so Microsoft's strategy toward promoting it can be summed up in two words: tools and standards.

Microsoft was one of the primary promoters of the initial set of Web services standards and according to John Maffei, a director in Microsoft's Platform Strategies Group, a key to promoting mobile Web services is establishing similar standards.

"We'd like to take the work that we did creating Web services standards and extend them to the mobile world," he said. "So we need to establish standards for things like authentication and getting location information."

Toward that end, Microsoft has established a partnership with the mobile network provider giant Vodafone. In the middle of October the two companies announced that they were working together to develop mobile Web services standards to be used by the entire mobile industry. Maffei says that the goal "is not to create standards just for Microsoft and Vodafone; we want to get industry participation." The ultimate goal is the creation of industry-wide mobile Web services standards, in the same way that SOAP, XML, UDDI and other standards form the underpinnings of Web services.

Maffei believes that establishing these standards will lead to an explosion of developer interest in mobile Web services, significant profits for mobile network providers and a set of new services for consumers and enterprises.

He sees a future in which telephones are more like PCs and PCs more like telephones. With mobile Web service standards in place, PC developers will be able to develop applications for mobile phones, and mobile services operators will be able to extend their services to those with PCs. Currently, PC developers tend to develop only for PCs and mobile phone developers tend to develop only for phones. But with a common set of accepted standards, there will be a more unified development environment, and services will be able to more easily be developed for both platforms.

Standards by themselves don't accomplish much; developers also need a set of tools to develop Web services applications to take advantage of them. Currently, PC developers use the limited set of mobile development tools in Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET. But that's about to change with Microsoft's updated pre-release of the next version of Visual Studio .NET, called "Whidbey." That release is expected next month.

The key part of Whidbey for Mobile Web services will be a new version of the .NET Compact Framework, designed to allow developers to build fully powered applications on handhelds, which typically lack the processing power and RAM of full-blown PCs.

In focusing on mobile Web services, Microsoft is pursuing an end of the market that could offer dramatic growth, at rates well above the growth in desktop PCs. Internetnews.com reported that for the first six months of its current fiscal year, Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices group grossed $116 million, compared to $66 million a year previously. That may sound like chump change out of Microsoft's total take, but at that growth rate, it could soon prove to be real money.

For more information about Microsoft and Mobile Web services, head to http://www.microsoft.com/serviceproviders/mobilewebservices/default.asp.

IBM weighs in
IBM has not been as aggressive as Microsoft when it comes to mobile Web services, but still, the technology is on the company's radar and in the long run is important to the computing behemoth.

Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services for IBM Global Services, notes that mobile Web services are already a reality and already being deployed. For example, when airline mechanics need to access up-to-date information and drawings, they are able to tap into databases to get that information using mobile Web services technology.

IBM, like Microsoft, is focusing on both mobile Web services standards and tools. In particular, Liebow says, it's working on a version of the WS-Security specification specifically for mobile devices. Additionally, it is developing a set of underlying standards for RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) so that an entire "ecosystem" of RFID-related standards and tools will be available by 2005.

Liebow says that Microsoft also believes that sets of industry-specific mobile Web services standards should be developed that tie directly into business processes applicable to specific industries.

As for tools, the primary Web services development platform, IBM's Web Services Tool Kit for Mobile Devices (WSTKMD) will work in concert with WebSphere to build mobile Web services. WSTKMD is still under development, but you can get more information about it, and download components of it, from IBM's AlphaWorks site at http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/wstkmd. And one component of WSTKMD, the JSR 172 Web Services run-time environment and tools, has already been incorporated into the WebSphere Studio Device Developer. (For information, go to http://www-306.ibm.com/software/wireless/wsdd/?Open&ca=daw-prod-wstkmd.)

What the future may bring
It's clear that both companies are big believers in mobile Web services, which means that in the long run, they'll most likely become a reality. Microsoft is pursuing the technology more aggressively than IBM, but the two companies cooperated on building the entire Web services framework and standards several years back; expect that in the long run, IBM will be working on mobile Web services with Microsoft as well.

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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