In-Depth

Can Dev Camps Give Windows Mobile A Boost?

As smart phone manufacturers ready devices based on Microsoft's long-awaited upgrade to its Windows Mobile upgrade, the software giant tomorrow will host a code-camp for developers.

The move comes as Microsoft is viewed by analysts as an underdog in the mobile race against Apple, Google and Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the Blackberry device. It also comes as critics have said Microsoft has been slow to reach out to mobile developers

The winmodevcamp, to be held on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, and will be focused on Windows Mobile 6.5, the long-planned upgrade to Windows Mobile 6. There will be no discussion of Windows Mobile 7, not due out until at least next year. Among those slated to speak will be a handful of representatives of Microsoft, AT&T, T-Mobile, and a variety of ISVs.

Also on the agenda are Brien Schultz, a consultant who will speak on "Open-Source .NET Framework for Windows Mobile Application" and Scott McHargue, a principal consultant with Sogeti USA, who will talk give a talk called "Enterprise Applications Following the MVC Pattern with C#."

The dev camps borrow from a page used by developers for Apple's iPhone and more recently Palm's webOS-based Pre. Notably, the organizer of winmodevcamp is Giovanni Gallucci, who was among those who spearheaded the predevcamp for the Palm Pre but stepped aside in June following a dispute with Palm.

"I've have a long career with Microsoft, that's actually the original platform I developed on," said Gallucci, in an interview explaining his switch in focus from one platform to another.

While the event will include presentations from Microsoft developer evangelists, it will also be "bar camp style," according to Gallucci. "It's the antithesis of a typical developer conference," he said. Developers typically present and share code.

That style worked well for the Apple iPhone platform two years ago, which has become the dominant mobile environment for developers. Such events were held without primary participation from Apple. Trying to emulate that effort, Gallucci and other community organizers earlier this year initiated the Pre dev camp effort, which took place August 8 in 85 cities worldwide.

The dev camps for Windows Mobile are still a work in progress. So far only tomorrow's event is planned, though it will be streamed. Other locations are in the pipeline including San Francisco, New York, Austin, London, Toronto, and Singapore, though dates are still pending, Giovanni said he envisions other cities being added.

"We were hoping the community itself will create the dev camps," said Loke Uei, senior technical product manager in Microsoft's Windows Mobile device experience group. Uei said in an interview that he had followed Gallucci's work on the Pre dev camp.

At the same time, Uei said Microsoft wants to support whatever events are planned. "We have 1,000 developer evangelists all over the world," Uei said. "When these dev camps get created and registered, we want to make sure our evangelists are there to provide support, whether it's food, content or speakers."

Encouraging developer camps is a smart move, said Nickolas Landry, a practice architect at New York-based Infusion Development and a Microsoft MVP. "It’s a very clear mandate, Microsoft is releasing its own Windows Mobile Marketplace this fall, and they need to make sure developers are ready for this," Landry said. "You can't talk about a marketplace and ignore developers."

But some argue any efforts by Microsoft's efforts to catch up with Apple and RIM, or even to keep Google at bay, may too late. Among the criticisms is that Microsoft has limited control over the hardware, and many of the features of Windows Mobile aren't suited for some of the hardware manufactures have ported it to. Landry disagreed saying that's a benefit not a liability.

"Microsoft is all about choice and that choice of course is to include OEMs, so you have various form factors," Landry said. "I have many enterprise clients that require different form factors depending on the roles of those in the organization."

But many critics say, while Microsoft should support Windows Mobile for those developers and enterprises who want to extend Windows, the company should not focus resources on trying to catch up with the iPhone, Blackberry or Google's Android.

One such skeptic is Jack Gold, who in a column that appeared in BusinessWeek questioned Microsoft's ability to catch up with its rivals. "Microsoft just has not provided enough management focus or funding for Windows Mobile over the last few years to make it a contender," Gold said in an interview.

"Microsoft has a lot of money they could hang on as long as they want but I think the ship ahs past them buy and it will be extremely difficult for them to catch up," he added. But others are wary of writing Microsoft off quite yet.

"Microsoft is very much following in Apple's iTunes footsteps, using it to lock people into the Microsoft ecosystem of software and services tied to its partners' hardware," wrote industry analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, in a column that appeared this week in PC Magazine. Apple, Google and Microsoft are on a "collision course," he wrote.

Microsoft is expected to launch its Windows Mobile Marketplace this fall and company officials are hoping the camps will help reach out to developers.

But Gold argued that Microsoft needs to realize that companies such as Oracle, SAP, and Salesforce.com, among others are more likely to spread their efforts to the iPhone and other platforms, and Microsoft needs to have a dual platform strategy as well.

Its linkup with Nokia last week to support Microsoft Office on its devices is a step in the right direction, Gold said. "I don't think it will end there, I think there will be more partnerships like this," Gold said. "They can't put their eggs in that basket they realize there are a lot of mobile devices not being sold with Windows Mobile."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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