By Greg Wilson
Software giant has put its mobile platforms at the centre of its Gitex display this year. However, questions about Arabic support still remain unanswered.
A couple of years ago it would have been hard to imagine Microsoft putting its Windows CE operating system at the centre of its Gitex presence. Although the revenue generated by its mobile platforms isn’t anything in comparison to Microsoft’s core desktop business, it holds the key to the success of the .NET strategy. “Mobility goes to the heart of the whole .NET strategy,” says Mohammed Kateeb, general manager, Gulf region, Pakistan & Yemen, Microsoft. “.NET is all about making information available to people, 24 hours a day. That means mobility,” he adds.On its stand, Microsoft is focusing on the three different iterations of its mobile platform — Pocket PC, the recently released mobile phone operating system, Smart Phone and a pre-release version of its Tablet PC. All three operating systems are based on Windows 2000, but each one has different components that tune it to a specific form factor. For example, whereas Pocket PC has been designed primarily as a business tool with limited telecommunications capabilities, the Smart Phone operating system has been designed to accommodate more phone features.Arguably the biggest elements missing from Microsoft’s current mobile strategy is Arabic support and local applications, particularly for its Pocket PC platform. As more businesses deploy mobile computing solutions, local language support for handheld devices is going to be as important as the Arabisation of the PC. However, until now Microsoft has been content to allow local partners to deliver Arabisation features on its Windows CE, and more recently Pocket PC platform. “Native Arabisation is on the cards, but work isn’t due to begin for a year,” says Kateeb. “But that process should only take about three months. We are looking at third quarter 2004 before there is something in the hands of the general public,” he adds.Microsoft is already thought to be working closely with a number of established players in the local market to develop applications for the Pocket PC platform. However, there is no timetable for the delivery of such applications. “We are talking to partners about development on the Pocket PC,” says Kateeb.Attempting to steal Microsoft’s mobile thunder during the show is Palm and its collection of partners in Hall 3. Despite a turbulent year, the handheld heavyweight has turned out in force at Gitex, with partners showcasing applications and an Arabic version of its Palm Operating Systems (POS). According to local general manager, Stuart Maughan, the vendor has been working closely with a number of local developers. “The interest from enterprise [businesses] in mobile solutions is much greater than last year,” he adds.“A number of industries such as health care, hospitality and education are all finding a use for handheld devices. Many local companies are realising the benefits that handheld units can bring to their business, whether it is streamlining the supply chain, or sending out updates to traveling salesmen,” says Maughan.Palm’s stand will be running a series of demonstrations including Lotus/IBM Domino Everywhere.