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Windows CE and the Great Big Mobile World Out There!

  • By Nancy Nicolaisen
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Where .NET Takes Us

Clearly, the big opportunities for CE developers lie in developing applications for mobile workers. We've got a lot going for us there. Users know and like the Windows interface. We know and like the Windows API. Both are elegant and powerful. And even though we are off to a glacially slow start, we've got some built in advantages with .NET.

What makes development of mobile applications difficult is not the client side programming, though that can be arcane. The big "gotchas" are formatting content for the client device and working with the wireless carrier gateways. The reason these things are challenging is that mobile applications consist of several distinct pieces, all of which have to collaborate and behave as predicted. If you choose a client device like a Palm PDA, you must concern yourself with getting data from a server, across a wireless network, to the mobile client, and into the client side software. Even in the best case, you'll have little control over what happens on the network. You'll be able to control the other players in the game only to varying degrees.

If you choose CE .NET, you get a big advantage: end to end, the entire process is integrated and managed by .NET components. NET is really an evolution of enterprise class web development tools that have been updated with mobile computing in mind. The organizing principle of .NET is that it exposes a sophisticated and extensive network of Web Services . Web services are intelligent server applications that advertise their capabilities to provide data or operations, either to an end user or to other Web Services. They communicate through SOAP and XML. Any .NET enabled device can access the services' content. Served data is formatted for the user's device and further customized based on user requests.

.NET offers obvious incentives to mobile application developers that want to reuse existing business logic and already standardize on Microsoft's operating systems, servers and database products. It also sidesteps the two stickiest issues in mobile application development. Since you know that any .NET enabled device knows how to render content, you have a big usability advantage over apps that must arbitrate formatting of content on a large variety of client device form factors. Also, the network layer is being managed for you.

The Net on .NET

We may be in a catch up game, but the biggest potential customer pool around has every reason to steer in the direction of .NET. As businesses shift more emphasis to automated interaction with customers, suppliers and government, Web based solutions offer powerful competitive incentives: 24x7 availability, lowered cost of service and improved communications. However, once you've hopped on the .NET bandwagon, you are committed. If Microsoft blows it again, .NET developers will suffer.

About the Author

Nancy Nicolaisen is a software engineer who has designed and implemented highly modular Windows CE products that include features such as full remote diagnostics, CE-side data compression, dynamically constructed user interface, automatic screen size detection, entry time data validation.

In addition to writing for Developer.com, she has written several books including Making Win 32 Applications Mobile. She has also written numerous articles on programming technology for national publications including Dr. Dobbs, BYTE Magazine, Microsoft Systems Journal, PC Magazine; Computer Shopper, Windows Sources and Databased Advisor.

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This article was originally published on January 30, 2003

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