Mobile .Net Goes Vertical

Just what is mobile .Net?

It is a question that has always bugged us here at Unstrung. Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) mushy descriptions of the "architecture" have touched on Web services and XML, extending the enterprise to wireless devices, and allowing desktop developers to create mobile applications.

Even developers working with .Net resort to waffle when trying to give an idea of what it is. For instance: "With .NET, Microsoft is sending us a vision of an Internet made up of an infinite number of interoperable Web applications which together form a global service exchange network," says Manish Mehta in an article entitled "What Is .Net?" on the .Net Xtreme developers' Website.

"Vision" is one of those trigger words for Unstrung. Others in the same painful category are "solution," "seamless," and "end-to-end" -- we hear them, and we reach for our revolver.

So -- to calm our nerves -- we decided that the best way to approach mobile .Net might be to look at the software that is being developed using the so-called architecture, rather then trying to understand the concept. So we turned to HP to find out what kind of .Net applications the company has been developing for customers.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Microsoft have just announced they will put up $50 million to push .Net to their corporate customers. HP is also training consultants, sales, and support staff as part of an increased focus on the framework.

It turns out that HP, like many other mobile companies, has decided that vertical applications -- like healthcare, industrial, and retail -- are the way forward for wireless. "There are some interesting vertical applications here that we really think are the way to attack mobile .Net," says Rick Fricchione, VP of enterprise Microsoft services at HP.

For instance, HP has built an application for the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which it calls the "Clinician Mobility Solution" (Grrrr!!!). The company used ".Net components," such as the Microsoft Biztalk middleware server, to deliver patient records to iPaq handheld computers. HP also wrote fingerprint recognition software for the iPaqs, so that the records cannot be accessed if the device is lost or stolen. The iPaq links back to the hospital network over a CDPD network.

Meanwhile, HP has developed a custom application using Visual Studio .Net for General Mills Inc. that enables the collection of sales information using an iPaq. Connectivity options include CDPD, GPRS, and 802.11 wireless networks.

Customized vertical applications are the way to go with .Net for the moment, according to Fricchione. However, he says the firm hopes to apply some of the lessons learned with the New York medical application if it develops a similar program for the state of California.

So at least we know what's being done with .Net at the moment. However, an exact definition of .Net is still as elusive as that killer app folk are always talking about.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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