Ballmer: Microsoft Aims to Build Universal Mobile Platform

Microsoft says it wants to emulate its PC model in building a mobile device application platform.

Microsoft wants to build a mobile device application platform as ubiquitous as Windows is on desktop PCs, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in his keynote address Oct. 23 at this years CTIA wireless conference in San Francisco.

Ballmer unveiled the companys new mobile computing platform, the Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, saying Microsoft intends to apply to the mobile computing world the same formula it used to democratize personal computing and make it readily available worldwide.

"We need to bring together four powerful computing [phenomena] that exist today: The desktop PC, enterprise computing, mobile services running in the cloud and phone devices," Ballmer said.

"The notion of four text messaging accounts, four or five e-mail accounts, all based on different devices—thats yesterdays idea … If we want innovations to proceed, we have to meld together and weave business models for software developers, telecommunications, and software companies."

Ballmer said the phone has a unique role in the emerging world of mobile computing with combined business models: While the PC is the most powerful device, the phone is the most ubiquitous in the world. Microsofts goal is to cause the phone to evolve so that it "participates fully in the world, in the lifestyle and business sides of the world."

That being said, Ballmer made it clear during a question and answer session following his keynote that Microsoft has no intention of trying to buy into the telecommunications market.

"No, we dont have plans to participate in the spectrum auction," said Ballmer, to audience applause. "We may be broader in what we do than any company, but we have a core competency. And we think the telecom industry has a core competency. It takes a real expertise to set up networks, to invest in capital expenditures, to provide customer service 24/7—that is a core competency. What would it buy us to own a piece of the spectrum? It would probably alienate us."

What Microsoft does plan to do—and has been doing—is invest heavily in the mobile computing industry in areas that cover the boundaries between work, life and entertainment by offering a platform on which to build mobile applications, he said.

And where it cant build its own solutions for enterprise users and consumers, Microsoft plans to partner with developers, carriers and device manufacturers. The goal, Ballmer said, is to eventually get Microsofts Windows operating system, Live services, Dynamics applications and other offerings onto hundreds of millions of devices through its platform.

"Consumers will want phones that span all life personas: work life, personal life, life with family and friends," Ballmer said. "People do not want to pull out multiple devices—that is not how we drive critical mass. People want phones to be general-purpose devices to support them in work and life. Thats incredibly, incredibly important."


Click here to read more about Microsofts plans for Windows Embedded CE.

Microsofts vision, as one might guess, is a "rich platform that supports workstyle and lifestyle innovation," Ballmer said. "So we need to focus on the platform."

On the work front, Microsofts System Center Mobile Device Manager helps IT to provision mobile phones in a number of ways, providing data management, data encryption, password protection for corporate data, data compliance and on-phone security.

Perhaps most importantly for mobile workers, it provides VPN access capabilities so users can access their business applications on the go. Ballmer announced several partners—AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Palm, Intermec Technologies and Motorola—that are working with Microsoft to support the System Center on various devices.

On the lifestyle front, Microsoft is adding new features to its Windows Mobile product, including voice-powered support for new Live search and access to Live Messenger, Live Hotmail, Office Mobile, Media Center and Media Player. Microsoft is also planning to add photo and personal video capabilities as well as access to its PC and Xbox games "in an appropriate form to devices," Ballmer said.

Much as with its successful approach to the PC market—making Windows nearly omnipresent by partnering with PC manufacturers and providers—Microsoft is calling on partners to pull it along in the mobile computing field.

"No one company is going to have anywhere near the wherewithal to do all that will power the next generation [of mobile computing]," Ballmer said.

"We are investing very heavily in devices and services around [the next generation] as a platform. If you want to write a thin-client application in HTML, AJAX [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] or our upcoming Silverlight, that will be available. APIs for forms, messaging, maps, sound, graphics—theyre all available for third-party innovation.

"The key thing is to provide a very consistent platform across all phones—to leverage our learning and knowledge in writing apps for PCs and bring that rich experience to phones," Ballmer said.


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