RealTime IT News

Windows Media Joins the Wireless World

You'd better believe major high-tech companies when they say they are going to make their products compatible to wireless devices or networks. At least believe they are going to try their darndest to fit their applications or hardware products with mobile capabilities what with all of this talk about 2.5G and 3G-- the much-talked-about future of wireless evolution.

Microsoft Corp. demonstrated as much Tuesday when it inked a deal with Intel Corp. to make its popular Windows Media software compatible with the chipmaker's XScale microprocessors utilizing the Intel Integrated Performance Primitives (IPP) -- software finely-tuned for the creation of advanced multimedia applications.

IPP consists of prewritten functions for math, image, speech, audio and video processing to deliver greater application performance by accessing each processor via optimized assembly language routines. In a sector where flash memory and longer lasting batteries are key selling points to many wireless consumers, Intel IPP can reduce battery consumption in mobile devices through shorter execution times and help developers minimize time and costs by letting an application be ported more quickly to multiple Intel processors.

By helping their own software and processors evolve, the companies hope their products will be attractive to the Palms and Handsprings of this world, and other top makers of wireless devices; these hardware firms realize the future of handhelds hinges on their abilities to deploy products that can send and receive personal digital audio and video, as well as stream digital music, Internet radio and visuals.

Microsoft and Intel have become serious about the future of wireless for good reason. A May Gartner Group study noted that as various mobile devices emerge for employees to use on a regular basis, enterprises must act now to have wireless solutions in place to support these technologies; Gartner analysts said there will be almost 800 million worldwide wireless data users by 2004.

To prepare for this deluge, Gartner said at least 50 percent of Fortune 2000 companies will have to support three solutions -- low-speed wireless data only, voice plus Web access and high-speed wireless LAN access.

"Enterprises will be well-advised to remember that no single wireless access network topology will meet anywhere near 80 percent of the requirements of enterprise knowledge workers," said Bob Egan, vice president and research director for Gartner. "To a large extent, end users' network requirements will be driven by the devices they carry, their job roles and their mobility."

Gartner's message, in summation, seems to be that enterprises should choose their solutions wisely. In Intel's and Microsoft's cases, these are two companies banding together to hammer out solutions for their products: Windows Media will get the wireless exposure it craves; Intel will test its mobile device chips against the rest of the market.

This is important for the chipmaker, whose competitors Advanced Micro Device (AMD) and Transmeta have been peppering the sector with wireless chips of their own. While Intel is planning on rolling out the Tualatin mobile Pentium III chips in July, its Internet chip, which integrates a processor core, flash memory, and DSP, is seen by some analysts as a market breakthrough.

Noting that Intel processors already power such devices as Compaq's iPAQ Pocket PC, Dave Fester, general manager of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft, said his company wanted to demonstrate its commitment to wireless devices with Tuesday's deal. However, what it also does is show how major tech firms are choosing the more established brands, in this case Intel, to further their own technological needs.

Along the lines of wireless progress, Microsoft Tuesday also contributed to its own device, the Pocket PC, which incidentally surpassed the shipping mark of 1 million total units last month. The software giant unleashed its recently updated Windows Media 7.1 Player for the Pocket PC and announced a preview of a new wireless digital media guide for mobile users, WindowsMedia.com Mobile.

This bodes well for the Pocket PC, which is bested by the Palm line by millions of units. Gartner's Egan explained the success of the Pocket PC, which was born April 19, 2000, with the help of partners Casio Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

"Good color screens and back-office integration have enabled the Pocket PC to make some significant inroads during the past year, in particular with its offerings for corporate customers," said Egan. "The momentum around connectivity solutions, developer support and integration for the Pocket PC seems to be capturing the hearts and minds of business decision-makers."

Windows Media Player 7.1 for Pocket PC is being touted as an all-in-one media player to support wireless access to digital audio and video for Pocket PC users, as well as playback of audio and video content. The preview of WindowsMedia.com Mobile provides PDA users with access to Windows Media audio and video content, which can be streamed to a Pocket PC over high-speed wireless Internet access -- specifically, but not limited to, Metricom's Ricochet Network or 802.11 wireless LANs.

Pocket PC users may scan such content as audio or video for news delivered from CNET, MSNBC, Audible; streamed radio from The Village Voice, Rolling StoneRadio, Radio Free Virgin, House of Blues, KFOG Radio, Cox Interactive Media, Clear Channel Communications and cablemusic.com Inc.; and music videos from Interscope Geffen A&M, The Island/DefJam Music Group and J-Records.