SAN FRANCISCO - Microsoft next week will introduce a server designed to give companies a way to wireless-enable applications for access from any number of handheld devices.
The Mobile Information 2001 Server 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 lineup," says Warren Wilson, an analyst with Summit Strategies in Kirkland, Wash. 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 piece - mobile access is a huge part of their new .Net initiative," says Craig Mathias, an analyst with FarPoint Group in Ashland, Mass. In June, Microsoft introduced its .Net platform, which is 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% of cellular phones and 80% of new PDAs will feature some form of access to the Internet, according to Gartner Group.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will officially unveil Mobile Server during his keynote address at the company's Enterprise 2000 event in San Francisco.
At the event, Microsoft will officially launch Windows 2000 Datacenter, the last of the four versions of the operating system.
It also will formally rename its line of seven enterprise servers, including Exchange, SQL and BizTalk, the .Net Enterprise Servers and add Mobile Server to the mix.
But IT executives shouldn't look for Mobile Server anytime soon.
Mobile Server beta one will be released at the end of this month, and commercial availability slated for next year, according to sources.
In March, IBM released software called WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, which transforms content to match the capabilities of mobile devices.
Oracle has a similar piece of middleware called Portal-to-Go that is XML-based and transforms data into various formats for mobile devices. Smaller companies such as EveryPath, Aether Systems and Marbles also offer software for transcoding data for wireless devices.
While Mobile Server 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 Mobile Server, but it does not plan to offer speech recognition in Windows 2000 until some time in 2002.
The software likely won't be cheap, either. IBM's Publisher costs $20,000 per processor.
Mobile Server 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.
Key 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.
Mobile Server also includes support for a number of services for building mobile applications, including XML, Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) and Wireless Markup Language. The server also supports standards based mobile specific transports and security mechanisms including, IETF DAV, Handheld Devices Markup Language, HTTP/HTML, XML, Secure Sockets Layer, Secure Hypertext Transport Protocol, Wireless Access Protocol, Wireless Markup Language, Active Directory Services Interface, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and Short Message Service.
The server also includes Microsoft Message Queuing to support asynchronous delivery of data to devices without a persistent connection.
The server will be much like Workstyle Server from Wireless Knowledge, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and Qualcomm. WorkStyle Server provides wireless access to Exchange e-mail, calendar and contact information. The company also has servers for Lotus Domino and Pocket PC.
Observers say that WorkStyle Server and Mobile Server are so similar that one may eventually disappear.