Last Friday's column regarding Microsoft's announcement of Outlook Mobile Manager (OMM) stirred interest in the whole mobility story and direction that Microsoft is embarking on. In this week's special report, I discuss Microsoft's mobile information product family. We covered OMM last week, so I'll focus on the other components of Microsoft's strategy for "mobile-enabling" any device with any data.

Let me start by identifying the need for mobile information. Exchange and email have been key drivers here. People want access to calendar, contact, task, and inbox content from their mobile devices such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and cell phones. This trend led Microsoft to spawn a new development group for mobile information products out of the Exchange development team, and it's now a separate development team within the Microsoft Mobile Internet Business Unit. This team is now ready to deliver three key components of the mobile information product family: OMM, Outlook Mobile Access (OMA), and Mobile Information Server (MIS). Another important component is the .NET Mobile Web Software Development Kit (SDK), which lets developers mobility-enable applications and content by applying formatting required for specific devices.

What's the difference between OMM and OMA? Recall that OMM provides a method to push Outlook content out to a mobile device via your carrier's Short Message Service (SMS) facility (or via MIS if you and your carrier have deployed it). OMA extends this capability by adding browse access to your Outlook information. In addition, whereas OMM is a client-based Outlook add-on, OMA is a server-based module that provides access via the MIS component and your carrier's Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) gateway (e.g., Phone.com, Nokia). OMA's features include Email (compose, read, browse, delete), Calendar (views, meeting requests, accept or decline), Contacts (Global Address Lists—GALs—, create, edit, delete), Tasks (create, edit, update, mark), Notifications (new items), and Configuration (notifications, preferences, passwords). OMA has more functionality and is ultimately where you want to be. With my WAP-based phone, I can receive notifications and other Outlook content and also browse back into my corporate intranet, as soon as my carrier and my organization deploy MIS.

MIS is the most crucial component if you want to fully mobile-enable your applications, content, and devices. MIS comes in two flavors: Enterprise and Carrier. Although similar in actual code base, the two MIS options target different areas and are ultimately designed to work together. The different versions evolved when Microsoft discovered that deploying MIS in a carrier infrastructure is very different (in most cases) from deploying it in an enterprise corporate environment. In most cases, the MIS servers will be used differently. On the corporate side, MIS will most likely bundle in the OMA component and be deployed both inside the corporate firewall and in the DMZ. On the carrier side, MIS will focus more on devices, message content transformation, and connectivity to gateways such as WAP or others. The ideal scenario for Microsoft is for corporations to deploy MIS, OMA, and OMM and for carriers to deploy MIS in their infrastructures. This approach provides end-to-end mobility-enabling for Exchange information and future applications that want to leverage these capabilities.

Microsoft's mobile information product family represents a significant effort by Microsoft to tackle this emerging market where the company has yet to make its mark. These components are also critical pieces in Microsoft's overall .NET and XP strategies. If you're looking to mobile-enable your organization's content and applications, these products, which Microsoft will deliver in 2001, should be on your list to investigate.