To many, Microsofts full-fledged launch of .Net Compact Framework last week sets up yet another battle with Sun Microsystems. This time its over mobile devices.
Unfortunately, this battle is one of perception. The two companies are as far apart on how to develop for mobile devices as they are regarding legal issues.
Microsofts mobile strategy is pinned on .Net CF—itself a subset of the full .Net environment. Suns strategy hinges on, among other things, Java 2 Micro Edition, or J2ME, which is at the same time a technology and a methodology for developing mobile applications. The only thing these two development strategies have in common is that they target mobile devices.
The difference is philosophical: Microsoft is betting that small devices will get smarter (and capable of supporting the beefy .Net run-time). Sun is betting that smart devices will get smaller (which opens up more doors in terms of a variety of devices to support).
Both bets are sound, which is why J2ME and .Net CF can both be successful. So far, however, neither can be called a success in any way. J2ME is on millions of phones, but so far the applications in use are focused on entertainment or are simply text-based and navigational, even in Japan and Europe.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is attempting to bring a rich client interface to mobile devices. The applications that Microsoft is showing will blow anyone away and create new demand for mobile devices. But those applications have little chance of running on anything as underpowered as a mobile phone (unless its one of those bulky "converged" devices). Microsoft did get close to working with Sendo—the British mobile device manufacturer—but that ended up in court.
The .Net CF platform, however, is truly rich. At the CTIA show, Microsoft demonstrated applications that ranged from a chess game that can be played individually or networked to enterprise-class applications from the Pepsi Bottling Group, which used a Symbol Pocket PC-based device.
Will .Net CF and J2ME become a real battle in the future? Absolutely. For now, though, J2ME is quite a bit more versatile and can run on set-top boxes, cameras, cars, home security systems and numerous other "devices." .Net CF, in the meantime, will dominate rich mobile client access.
How do you see this perceived battle shaping up? Write to me at email@example.com.
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