In-Depth

Making Waves: Windows Mobile vs. BlackBerry

Windows Mobile takes on BlackBerry as wireless spectrum shows signs of opening up.

When Jim Reilly attended the annual Lotusphere conference last January, he discovered that it would not be a major undertaking to develop and run rich .NET applications on BlackBerry devices.

As the Internet Development Manager at Mizuno USA Inc., a global chain of high-end sporting goods stores, Reilly was looking for a handheld solution for Mizuno's sales reps after a disappointing test experience with the Palm Treo running both Windows Mobile and PalmOS. A mobile browser-based interface was not an option for the company's JD Edwards apps, due in part to poor performance and a limited user experience.

Then Reilly discovered that Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry, offers a tool called MDS Studio. He shared this information with Scott Grandfield, a developer on his team, who wrote an inventory lookup app on the BlackBerry that uses the .NET data provider for IBM Corp.'s DB2 database. Within a few months, Mizuno deployed an application that lets sales reps check order status and shipment information in near real time. It even uses Web services to check shipping status from FedEx and UPS.

"When Scott came with the concept of MDS Studio it was so much faster, and access to the data was real-time, on-demand, any time/anywhere type stuff -- [it] was just mind blowing," Reilly says.

The deployment, a relatively small one that will reach just hundreds of users next year, underscores the challenge .NET developers face in the arena of smartphones, PDAs and the mobile Internet. Microsoft's platforms are not always a clearly superior -- and in some cases, even a viable-option for mobile deployments.

"BlackBerry is the device to beat," says industry analyst Rob Enderle of the San

Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group. "It's vertically integrated. They provided a good solution: A combo of good hardware and simplicity, which defines the first entry of the products into the segment."

Still, Microsoft enjoys a profound advantage with its established enterprise platforms. It's an advantage that has won some fairly large deployments.

Consider the United States Census Bureau, which is in the process of rolling out an app that will ultimately involve 500,000 individuals. Intended to automate the arduous process of gathering census data every 10 years, the project is possibly the largest single Windows Mobile enterprise deployment in history.

As part of a $600 million contract awarded last year to government IT contractor Harris Corp., the Census Bureau is developing the applications in Visual Studio 2005 using the .NET Framework and .NET Micro Framework with a combination of C# and C++ code.

"We saw significant benefits with Windows Mobile over other platforms," says Mike Murray, Harris' vice president of census programs. In preparing its bid, Harris determined that BlackBerry and the widely deployed Symbian platform lacked the tools offered in the Microsoft stack. BlackBerries, Murray and other critics contend, are best suited for e-mail and calendaring, while Microsoft's frameworks offer better integration with line-of-business applications.

Mike Murray "We saw significant benefits with Windows Mobile over other platforms."
Mike Murray, Vice President, Census Programs, Harris Corp.

Enderele isn't surprised. "Now that smartphones are becoming a true platform, we're moving toward Microsoft's strength and away from RIM."

RIM recently released a Visual Studio plug-in for MDS Studio that aims to win over .NET developers by easing the process of porting apps to the BlackBerry. Could the BlackBerry emerge as the PDA of choice for .NET apps?

Don't bet on it, according to industry observers. Microsoft, at the recent Cellular Technology Industry Association (CTIA) show in San Francisco, unveiled the company's Mobile Device Manager, enterprise server software that observers say could make the Windows Mobile platform competitive with the BlackBerry among enterprise developers.

"It will manage the phone, in some senses, like it would manage mission-critical data on the PC," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during his keynote address at the CTIA show. "This is a major step forward."

Mobile Device Manager-Changing the Stakes?
One area where Microsoft has consistently trailed RIM is in the realm of security and policy management. It's a failing that has stunted Windows Mobile deployment, particularly among large corporate and especially government and military enterprises.

Microsoft and RIM Platforms on a Roll

According to Gartner Inc.'s most recent figures released last month, the number of BlackBerries shipped worldwide jumped more than threefold, from 467,000 units to 1.5 million units for the second quarter year-over-year. By comparison, Windows Mobile-based device shipments for the same period grew 40 percent, to slightly more than 1 million units. Gartner is forecasting that by the first quarter of 2009, Microsoft will actually have more devices deployed for e-mail than Research In Motion Ltd.

"Both have a lot of room to grow," says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.

"RIM has consistently clobbered Microsoft on security," says Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney, pointing out that RIM has well over 200 to 300 different policies they can force on a device. "When you put in a Microsoft device, you've basically lowered your overall security footprint, because security is only as good as the lowest common denominator."

Mobile Device Manager (MDM), now in beta to a few dozen customers and due out in the first half of the year, changes the stakes, Dulaney says.

"What Microsoft is doing is trying to raise the bar on mobile device security by leveraging Active Directory, which they use on laptops and desktops -- trying to bring the cell phone and PDAs into the fold as a just another device. The good news about using Active Directory is that many customers already use it, it's extremely extensible, they can have as many policies as you want, and it's secure."

That's a big change, says Scott Rockfeld, Microsoft's group product manager for Windows Mobile. It's the first time Windows Mobile devices can join domains through Active Directory, taking advantage of group policy management and allowing developers and administrators to determine what a Windows Mobile device can do and what kind of information it can access.

"It will make Windows Mobile devices first-class citizens -- they've always been third-class citizens," Rockfeld says. Through the Active Directory group policy feature, Rockfeld says communications (such as Bluetooth, infrared and even SMS capabilities) and cameras can be disabled to ensure compliance. Microsoft says MDM will offer 125 polices.

MDM includes a mobile virtual private network (VPN) that supporting device manufacturers will offer. The VPN allows for continuous connectivity when switching between mobile networks, and allows individuals to reestablish dropped sessions without having to re-authenticate. The VPN authenticates both the device and the user.

MDM also will let developers determine which applications may run on specific users' devices. The software supports numerous management features, including over-the-air provisioning, bootstrapping, software deployment and reporting. A feature called "wipe now" ensures sensitive data is removed from the device without requiring the device to sync with the server-critical for hardware that has been lost or stolen.

Numerous device manufacturers already have disclosed plans to offer Windows Mobile-based phones that will support MDM, including Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s new BlackJack II, a Windows Mobile 6-based phone with GPS capability. Others, including Hewlett-Packard Co., i-mate, Intermec Technologies Corp., HTC Corp., Motorola Inc. and Palm Inc. have launched phones that will support MDM. AT&T says it will offer support for MDM.

Meanwhile Microsoft has lined up a partner ecosystem for Mobile Device Manager, with initial service providers including Avanade Inc. (the joint venture of Accenture and Microsoft), Computer Sciences Corp., EDS Corp., Getronics NV, Hewlett-Packard and TCS Inc.

Mobile Device Manager in Beta
Several dozen firms are beta testing MDM, under the oversight of Watertown, Mass.-based Enterprise Mobile Inc., a channel partner established this past summer by Corporate Software founder Mort Rosenthal. Enterprise Mobile has handled the deployments and training of all beta testers, Rosenthal says. His company also helped develop MDM.

Mort Rosenthal "Customers who are most interested have a tangible need; they're trying to move a line-of-business application forward and want device management to be part of the equation."
Mort Rosenthal, Founder, Corporate Software.

Rosenthal believes MDM will become a key component of the Microsoft solution stack. "It's a product that customers want to understand," Rosenthal says. "Customers who are most interested have a tangible need; they're trying to move a line-of-business application forward and want device management to be part of the equation. And the imperative of that line-of-business app will drive the imperative around Mobile Device Manager."

One such beta customer is SAT Corp., a supplier of decision-support software called IntelTrac that's used by oil, gas, chemical and paper companies, among others in the manufacturing field. Its customers include DuPont, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Honeywell International Inc. and Shell Group.

Developers: Take Note of MDM
While third parties such as Afaria and Wavelink Corp. offer device-management tools, Microsoft MDM brings mobile device management into the Windows stack, says Donald Frieden, SAT's founder and CEO. "There are some best of breeds that may be stronger in a few areas, but Microsoft has most of that on their roadmap," Frieden says.

While MDM will offer no APIs new to .NET developers at launch, the next release on the roadmap for 2009 will allow developers to write applications that are notification-enabled, so they can, in effect, react to alerts or other conditions, says Samir Kumar, a group product planner in Microsoft's Windows Mobile group.

"In that scenario, there would be potentially APIs that a developer could plug into for things like subscriptions," Kumar says. "So if I want to send an alert to a device that says 'your sales order has been approved,' or 'so and so has happened,' or 'so and so has shipped,' that's an area we're looking at for providing APIs within Visual Studio in the future."

Another area Microsoft is considering with respect to APIs is the extensibility of the server itself, Kumar says. "If I like to use my own tools or have some third-party tools and I want to perform MDM functions through the Mobile Device Manager server, I want to have my own user experience or my own console to do that," Kumar says.

Microsoft is looking to expose the functions and capabilities of MDM on the server through Web services. This would enable a corporate help desk staff to integrate MDM functions into their own help desk console, or enable ISVs of third-party device-management providers to plug into the server to call functionality from it, Kumar adds.

The lack of new APIs in MDM doesn't detract from the system's significance to developers, Kumar says, citing simplified communications and synchronization management. "We see more developers building more interesting connected, line-of-business applications than we've seen to date on Windows Mobile."

RIM doesn't see MDM encroaching on its growth. Tyler Lessard, director of alliances at RIM, argues that much of the device and policy management, security, and VPN functionality in MDM has existed in its platform for years.

"The BlackBerry is focused from the ground up on the device to have IT policies and management baked in," Lessard says. "From what I've seen from Microsoft, it's still a very broad set of management capabilities for the device."

While Harris Corp. won't be using MDM in the initial Census Bureau deployment, Microsoft's Kumar says the software is designed to scale to just such an implementation.

"This will solve a lot of the issues you'd run into when you have such a large deployment," he says.

Players Jockey to Open Wireless 'Nets

In a major shift by a large wireless network provider, Verizon Wireless late last month said it will open its network in 2008 to applications and devices not provided by the carrier.

Until now, Verizon Wireless and all major wireless providers have required customers to use handsets developed only for their networks. Under the plan, to take effect by the end of next year, corporate and commercial developers alike will be able to port devices and applications not designed exclusively for Verizon.

For those developing applications for Windows Mobile and other platforms, the new strategy will allow customers to program and bring their own devices to Verizon Wireless, which will publish technical requirements to developers in early 2008.

"This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass-market wireless devices, one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth," said Verizon Wireless President and CEO Lowell McAdam in a prepared statement.

The Verizon Wireless decision is a major shift, considering it had until now vehemently opposed allowing customers to bring their own devices to its network. However, market dynamics are rapidly changing.

On Nov. 5, Google Inc. launched a mobile platform called Android and established the Open Handset Alliance with the backing of T-Mobile Inc., HTC Corp., Qualcomm Inc., Motorola Inc. and others. At the end of November, Google announced it would bid on a newly available wireless spectrum in the 700MHz band.

Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney notes that there are still many unanswered questions for Verizon Wireless. For example, what kind of applications will Verizon Wireless allow and how will they be priced?

"There are a lot of unknowns, which leads you to the conclusion this could be a publicity getter," Dulaney says.

However, the growing presence of public wireless LANs and emerging high-speed wireless technologies such as Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) pose a threat to incumbent carriers.

"It's a response to the competitive threats," says Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group. "I think it's a realization that the market is about to change. To be a survivor of the change that's to come you want to be ahead of the change and aggressive and not wait until the change starts taking market share away from you."

Microsoft officials believe the move will extend opportunities for developers. "For Windows Mobile, it just gives more opportunity for our customers to use existing apps that are already developed," says Scott Rockfeld, Microsoft's group product manager for Windows Mobile. "It puts the choice in our customers' hands and lets them decide what experience they want to have."

Verizon Wireless plans to offer a testing lab where it will approve devices and apps. The company says after it releases its technical standards, it will host a conference to discuss those standards and seek developer feedback.

-- J.S.

comments powered by Disqus

Reader Comments:

Add Your Comment:

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Comment:
Please type the letters/numbers you see above