The India Development Centre of Microsoft is creating portable versions of key desktop toolsWHEN VINT Cerf widely recognized as the `Father of the Internet,' came to India last week, the discussion at a the meetings he addressed, focused, unsurprisingly, on the future of the World Wide Web. The man who co-wrote the TCP/IP protocol that underpins all content on the Net and continues to oversee the allocation of `top domain' names and addresses, as Chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers had a piece of advice for the Indian developer community: Forget personal computers, he said, the future of the Internet lies in the hands of mobile phone users. While the number of users of the Internet crossed one billion last month, that still left the remaining 5.5 billion people on the planet, untouched. And to reach them, the portable phone was the only affordable technology we have today, he added, pointing to the 6 million mobile phones were bought in India alone, in a recent month.Bill Gates, in his traditional opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a few weeks ago, was on a similar tack: the key information appliance of this century would be something people carried with them for work and play he said. The company he heads, is aggressively acting on this perception. Which is why the Microsoft India Development Centre (MIDC) in Hyderabad is the place to visit for a feel of what is being done to turn vision into reality.
Specific mandateThe largest development facility of the company, outside the U.S., has a specific mandate to make IT all happen on your mobile... I asked Craig Mundie, Microsoft's Redmond (Washington)-based Chief Research and Strategy Officerabout the challenges of recreating the desktop PC experience on a device with a match box-sized screen. He reminded me that except for the radio technology that provided the connectivity, the cell phone was in reality, a computer: " It manifests itself as whatever you want to use it as: music player, video player, e-mailer, contacts viewer... "While the basic hand phone was now extremely cheap, the user pays again and again for the telecom service that fuels it ... which is why the most cost effective technology to use the phone as a mobile productivity device, might not be the cellular network but something like WiFi or WiMax. Indeed, researchers at MIDC are looking at another compelling option: unused television channels. These have the advantage of lower frequencies. "This means much better propagation characteristics. It might be 10 times more effective at the same power and cost and cover 10 times more distance," Mundie suggests. As the world moves to the new era of high definition digital TV, it will release a lot of analogue bands in most countries and these can be used to create an unlicensed and free-to-use, spectrum below 1 GHz for providing the connectivity for mobile devices. Microsoft's software engineers at Hyderabad are moving Office applications to mobile versions of Windows.
The first releaseThe upcoming `Windows Mobile 6' that was previewed at `3GSM World' in Barcelona last month, will be the first release where the office suite will be integral with the mobile operating system. Srini Koppulu, Managing Director of Microsoft India (R&D) and head of the India Development Centre said MIDC engineers have also created the mobile data base tool SQL CE (formerly SQL Mobile) and ported Visual Studio on the mobile platform. Today, Microsoft's India-based teams are also working to improve the functionality of the new Vista version of Windows : They have helped make its scan-and-fax functions a seamless user experience. Office on the Web?MICROSOFT IS not alone in realising the potential of mobile phones as Net-connected infotainment devices. Fixed-Mobile convergence is happening allowing the cell phone to take on the functions of a stationary Internet-fuelled phone... and connecting to the user's desktop PC content and applications. Siemens has launched HiPath Mobile Connect, a dual mode handset. Symbion, which powers handsets from Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung is now into the business of mobile surfing and productivity software.Since the mobile has scant space to store one's files, a new niche in Net-based office tools (coupled with storage) has emerged. Google allows GMail users to create documents and spreadsheets with its `Writely' application and store them on the Web or desktop. It has also launched a paid online office application with 10 GB of storage called Google Apps. Most recently, Corel, maker of WordPerfect, has offered a free Web-based version of its word processor, called Lightning, with 200 MB of free storage space.