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Microsoft Says Enterprises Will Feel the Sting

Microsoft Corp. unveiled its “Stinger” mobile phone platform on Monday, casting it as a next-generation consumer client. Redmond, however, said little until today about how Stinger will fit into the enterprise.

Phil Holden, director of Microsoft’s mobile devices division, believes that enterprises will be eager to implement Stinger phones as a client for a mobile workforce. Stinger features e-mail and contact management, as well as Web browsing, functionality, blurring the line between a handheld device and a mobile phone.

“The key factor for the enterprise is the Intranet,” Holden says, noting that many enterprises are interested in pushing corporate data, such as customer and supply chain information, out to mobile devices, so workers can use it in the field or during off hours.

Holden uses the example of an executive on a product road show who wants to keep expense reports and new contacts as fresh as possible. Many workers still collect this data while working off site, then enter it when they reach the home office. “You want to be able to do that on the road,” he says, asserting that Stinger will be an ideal mobile platform for these tasks.

While Microsoft’s recent mobile products like Outlook Mobile Manager and Mobile Information server have disappointed some with their limited functionality, Holden says with Stinger, users will have access to full featured front ends for Personal Information Management (PIM) and ERP applications.

Outlook Mobile Manager currently enables users to push abbreviated email messages out to wireless phones, and Mobile Information Server converts HTML documents to WAP formats; both are unable to support two-way server interaction. “By the time we get to the Stinger timeframe we will have the backend support for that,” Holden says.

Holden hopes that Stinger will be a completely .NET product. “Our goal is to write the interface entirely in XML,” he says. XML is a critical component of the .NET strategy. Data, in XML format can be pushed from the .NET integration and will enable users to more effectively process information, Holden says. “When I delete something, it’s done on the server, as well as on the phone,” he says. The server integration will spare users the task of reading an e-mail message once on a phone, then waiting to delete it from a desktop machine.

Holden sees two deployment options for an enterprise Stinger rollout. First, an IT department could purchase many phones and install the next generation of Mobile Information Server to push information out to users, keeping the deployment and data entire in house. Second, IT could include Stinger on a list of “approved” devices, and work with a wireless carrier for supporting intranets on the devices.

Holden believes the second scenario is more likely for most enterprises. Most handheld and wireless devices come into enterprises “through the backdoor,” purchased by individuals for corporate use. This scenario makes the deployment less overwhelming, putting the responsibility on users. In addition, few administrators are experienced in supporting wireless devices, putting some of the support responsibility on the carrier, while giving administrators time to bone up on the platform.

The first Stinger devices are expected to appear in late 2001. Since Stinger is primarily a consumer device, Microsoft hopes to have it available as a holiday gift. – Christopher McConnell

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.