The Microsoft Mobility Tour in Toronto

 

Introduction

On June 22nd, the 2005 Microsoft Mobility Tour made a stop in Toronto at the Harbour Westin Hotel. The tour consisted of a half day seminar focusing on how to deploy the infrastructure necessary to support mobile workers. It consisted of 3 sessions: The first was an overview of Microsoft’s mobility strategy. The second focused on the infrastructure required to help securely deploy and manage a mobile solution. The last session featured case studies and demonstrations from Microsoft technology partners showcasing the latest mobility devices available in Canada.

Outside the presentation room, Rogers and Telus had small display tables with Telus featuring the Audiovox 6600.

The Microsoft Mobility Strategy

The first presentation by Alex Nanos, Micorosoft’s Mobility Business Manager, kicked off with a small introduction about the current state of mobility. Some interesting numbers included:

  • 1.5 billion worldwide wireless subscribers
  • 620 million mobile phones shipped worldwide in 2004 with the expectation that this number will climb to 800 million by 2008
  • 3G mode to surpass 100 million users by 2007
  • 2.75 million PDAs were shipped in Q2 2004
Audiovox 6600
Figure 1: Audiovox 6600

Essentially, Microsoft’s strategy can be boiled down to empowering people through great software running on any type of device. The goal is to embed mobility into all tools that Microsoft offers. For example, Windows Server 2003, SQL Server and Exchange Server 2003 are already built with this goal in mind. The forthcoming Visual Studio 2005 will bring that philosophy to development, making it easier for developers to move desktop applications to mobile devices. Microsoft also wants to ensure that devices can deliver a rich experience in both online and offline modes. There is no point building a device that is useless unless connected. No kidding!

Before going further, Alex indicated that the focus of the presentations would be on the Pocket PC (including Phone Edition) and Smartphone devices although Microsoft’s mobility strategy also encompasses the Tablet PC. A quick comparison of Smartphone and Pocket PC (including Phone Edition) followed. The major differences are slightly different software sets (eg, Smartphone does not come with Pocket Excel, Pocket Word and Terminal Services) as well as some user interface differences due to different displays, namely mobile phones having much smaller displays than PDAs.

A look at Microsoft’s global momentum shows that it is on the upswing. Microsoft now owns 45% of the volume share of the PDA market, works with 67 mobile operators in 48 countries as well as over 40 Windows Mobile device manufacturers. Its operating system is now used in over 25 converged phone designs

The presentation continued with a look at what drives mobility in the enterprise and the accompanying IT concerns. On the business side, mobile solutions are driven by a desire to improve worker efficiency by providing better access to both email and information and as well as access to vertical market applications. On the other hand, IT is concerned with the increased complexity of managing security, system assets and voice technology. Microsoft claims that it has been able to juggle both sets of priorities to deliver solutions that meet business requirements without compromising on IT’s concerns.

Delving further into enterprise applications, Microsoft splits them into two broad categories. The first is communication-centric applications which consist of personal information management tools like calendars, contact lists and email functionality. Focusing on the last item, Alex demonstrated how Exchange 2003 supports mobility in different scenarios:

  • Outlook Exchange (RPC over HTTPS) -> Full client that does not require VPN for secure access
  • Outlook Web access – Requiring only a browser
  • Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)
  • Outlook Mobile Access (WAP access)

The other category consists of process-centric applications where the aim is to enhance existing practices. These include tools such as SFA, ERP software like SAP, Siebel and custom applications. For example, in the banking industry, you will find CRM and stock quote tracking tools. In the insurance industry, you will find mobile software for claims adjusting and policy sales/updates.

Audiovox SMT 5600
Figure 2: Audiovox SMT 5600

The first presentation wrapped up with a look at four devices recently introduced in Canada. Featured were the Audiovox 6600, the SMT5600 (with the distinction of being the first Smartphone in Canada), and the HP iPAQ 6320 and 6325.

Exchange Mobility

The second presentation was delivered by Andy Papadopoulos and focused on Exchange Mobility. It was a real whirlwind tour of tools that both support and enhance Exchange. As part of his introduction, Andy once again explained that Microsoft’s strategy is to deliver the same experience no matter the device. The same rules should apply and all software components should be built with mobility in mind so that there are no additional requirements. He provided some examples:

  • Exchange 2003 addressed many mobility issues: It improved handling of latency issues by using several techniques including a cache mode (essentially a local copy of the mail file that is not user accessible), reduced roundtrips, data compression, checkpointing and skip bad items logic.
  • Outlook 2003’s user interface was improved to ensure that 40% more information was displayed on the default views than in older versions.
  • Outlook Web Access provides a zero-install solution that behaves almost identically to the Outlook client
  • EAS uses technologies such as Smart Reply/Smart Forward that delivers attachments and full messages without need to download it
  • Outlook Mobile Access, despite not being very pretty, offers familiar commands such as context menus for the calendar, contacts and tasks, allows triage of email and more.

Then the real whirlwind began. Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) can be used to further secure Exchange. For example, it allows administrators to move mail servers out of DMZ of a network.

Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 which is coming this fall, will place a heavy focus on mobility, including Direct Push and wireless GAL access. It will also focus on security, offering administrators security policies for PDAs and Smartphones and features like remote wipe (for example when a PDA is lost). It will feature a lot more including anti-spam features.

Then, we had a very quick look Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) which can be used to monitor Exchange servers. It offers features like email alerts and over 1700 rules that are used to ensure that all aspects of the server are running. It will also include its own knowledge base and 135 built-in reports. Other MOM management packs can be used to monitor other Microsoft software.

iPAQ h6300
Figure 3: HP iPAQ h6300

Asset management can be performed using SMS 2003 which has support for mobile devices.

Microsoft has also the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer. This free download will perform a review of an Exchange server configuration and make suggestions to improve performance and security as well as highlight best practices.

I warned you that it was a whirlwind!

Beyond Messaging

In the final presentation, Alex began by again looking at some statistics:

  • More licenses for Windows Mobile for Smartphones sold in Q2 2005 (Microsoft fiscal year) than in all of 2004
  • Microsoft is now second in marketshare of the mobile phone OS market with a 20.2% share. Symbian leads with a 50.2% share and PalmSource is in third with 16.9% (Stats are from Q3 2004

Case studies followed. The first was about Nissan Motor Company. A project to consoldiate a decentralized IT infrastructure brought in about $135 million USD in savings. Exchange Servers were reduced from 36 to 18. OWA was rolled out to 41,000 users in the first month and is now up to over 80,000 users. On the Samsung i700 and other PDAs, custom Today screens were deployed with links to the commonly used applications.

Other case studies did not offer as much information and were less interesting. They basically showed the same thing: Deploying mobile solutions improved communications for geographically diverse workforce, provided secure collaboration, increased productivity (eg, wireless dispatch rather than having to come to office to get work orders), helped track deliveries in near-realtime (eg, 30seconds after customer signs on ruggedized PDA, order data updated on central servers), etc.

A demonstration of mXForms by TrueContext showed how paper-based forms could be replaced with Windows Mobile devices acting like multimedia clipboards. The XML-format tool comes with with prepackaged, generic forms (eg, patient care, llicence compliance, dispatch + delivery, etc). Can be customized. once complete, the forms can then be pushed either wirelessly or through the cradle. Connectors into most commonly used databases can then move the data into corporate database systems.

The demonstration provided again focused on improved efficiency (e.g., the electronic forms contained fewer errors than paper-based forms), ease of use, support for multimedia (like pictures and signatures).

Lastly, we got to see a few very quick demos. On the Audiovox 6600, we saw its backlit keyboard, as well as accessories such as a WiFi SD card, a barcode scanner SD card and MSN Messenger. On the Audiovox SMT5600, Alex showed us how easy it is to send an email (and difficult to type one). The iPAQ h6300 was used for a demonstration of the mXForms from TrueContext.

Conclusion

The presentations concluded with a quick look at the evolution of mobile solutions. While early devices delivered PIM capabilities, we are now in an era that focuses on messaging and are beginning to see the next wave where business solutions will become mobile as well.

Although the enterprise slant was undeniable, it was still interesting to see where Microsoft sees mobile technology going as well as where Microsoft is taking it. And we all know that these technologies will eventually seep further down into the consumer space in one form or another.