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Handhelds Get Boost on Windows CE

Microsoft Monday released the latest iteration of its .Net software running on compact devices, improving SQL Server and running a second round of beta testing on Visual Studio and .Net Compact Framework.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant has been making a big push to bring its vision of Web services to PDAs and other handheld devices, considered by many in the industry the logical extension and marriage of the Internet and corporate intranets.

With Web services-enabled devices, like Monday's release of SQL Server CE, technicians and executives on the move can make real-time adjustments to figures and inventory and "synch" up with corporate intranet or Internet sites.

Tom Button, Microsoft developer platform vice president, said the latest enhancements boost application power and give .Net developers at companies more room to program specific code.

"We're delivering a complete, coherent mobile development platform so that .Net developers can hit the ground running to create and deploy smarter mobile applications," he said.

The biggest boost comes from improvements to SQL Server for Windows CE, the popular database program running on handheld devices. Version 2.0 comes with several enhancements that give the application a PC-like experience. To date, handheld versions of SQL Server get the short end of the stick compared to mainframes and PCs running Server 2000, primarily due to memory and power constraints.

With the previous version of SQL Server CE, said David Rasmussen, a .Net lead product manager, a company like Nabisco could deploy handheld devices to its drivers to keep track of the cargo they were carrying, as well as take down simple orders.

The latest version is much more robust, with SQL Server CE integrated with the .Net platform, letting that same driver manipulate the data in real time and synchronize the information with the corporate database.

"Relative to alternative technologies, it's actually quite a powerful database," he said. "Yes, it's crammed down into a 1.5 MB footprint, (but) this is really the optimized set of the functions that are relevant.

"It's just like using a desktop version of SQL Server," Rasmussen added. Two improvements found in SQL Server for CE 2.0 include the software's support of 249 indexes per table, the same as that found in Server 2000 and connectivity enhancement through the virtual directory creation wizard, which manages existing Internet Information Services (IIS) virtual directories and sets up NTFS permissions. A new error message file helps developer's track down problems in the code. Other improvements include encryption support and compression for remote use.

SQL Server CE 2.0 is part of Microsoft's attempt to get corporations integrated into the .Net compact framework and get its developers to rely on Visual Studio .Net for Web services. While many Web services standards incorporate extensive support for PCs and networks, Microsoft has also been heavily investing in handheld device support.

Full-fledged SQL Server CE use isn't available just yet, however. In order for the program to integrate with the corporate database, it goes through the .Net Compact Framework (through Visual Studio .Net), which hasn't been completely finished. According to Rasmussen, 10,000 beta testers, a majority of whom are using the new beta build, are ironing out the issues and Microsoft expects to have a working framework in place for the public before the end of the year.

So important is the handheld component to its .Net strategy, Microsoft officials opened up parts of its Windows CE .Net source code, something officials had been very reluctant to hand over to the developer community. Previously, code was given out to chipmakers trying to integrate processing power to the software, resulting in AMD, Samsung and Crusoe chips supporting the handheld OS.

The company's Compact Framework and Visual Studio for .Net have already gone through its first wave of internal beta testing, and officials have launched a second round of beta testing Monday to further test the code. According to officials, beta testers in the first round will get a copy of the second beta by the end of the day.

Developers and users can download SQL Server CE v2.0 in Microsoft's download section.