Pivoting from Rugged Windows Mobile Handhelds to Windows 8 Tablets

I first noticed the phenomenon of companies with route drivers moving from ruggedized Windows Mobile handhelds to Windows tablets a few years ago.

The thinking was you could turn these folks who perform direct store delivery (DSD), pickup and delivery, and dispatched tasks into sellers and marketers. The tablet would run a bigger version of the handheld app, while also providing a vivid product catalog and perhaps even videos to show the customer at the point of activity. The Windows tablets back then were thick, heavy, and had marginal battery life that wouldn’t make it through a complete shift without charging it in the truck while driving. A lot of them followed Intel’s reference design for a healthcare-focused tablet with an integrated handle. Anyway, in spite of the shortcomings of yesterday’s Windows 7 tablets, it was a good idea. The Windows Forms apps that ran on the .NET Compact Framework were easily ported to the full .NET Framework on the tablet since the only change was the screen size. Those field employees found their app easier to use (and see) while becoming part-time upsellers.

Tablet App

Things are even better with today’s Windows 8 tablets. The world’s most popular operating system is faster, more secure, and uses less memory and fewer resources than it’s predecessors. Intel has followed suit with a system on chip (SoC) design called Clover Trail (Atom) that gives thin and light tablets better performance, x86 compatibility, and 10 hours of battery life. OEMs have combined Windows 8 and Intel’s new multicore Atom processor to create enterprise-class tablets that are thinner and lighter than the iPad. All of them support capacitive multitouch and some include a digitizer stylus. A huge opportunity has presented itself to move the .NET Compact Framework apps that most every company around the world depend on to run their business. Using Microsoft’s latest version of Visual Studio and .NET, those full screen Windows Mobile apps can be upsized to full screen Windows Forms apps designed for touch on Windows 8 tablets. Your existing UI, business logic, SQL Server Compact database, and data sync code will all make the move. Once you enlarge your font sizes as well as your touchable UI elements, you’ll be good to go for deployment. There is no faster, cheaper or lower risk way to move your existing apps to the tablet era. Contrast this with the millions you might spend porting those apps to other platforms using completely different development tools, programming languages, and technologies. Speaking of risk, there’s no guarantee that alternate tablet technologies will support your existing Bluetooth and USB peripherals like thermal printers, RS232 adapters, barcode scanners, and DEX interfaces just to name a few.

The focus of your business is to make money at whatever you’re good at. It’s not about perpetually running on the technology Hamster wheel. If you’re considering making a move from Windows Mobile or Windows Embedded Handheld devices to tablets, I’ve just laid out your fastest time to value. Oh, and don’t worry, your updated, full screen, touchable WinForms apps will work just fine with the keyboard and mouse/trackpad on your Windows 7 laptops and tablets. Sounds pretty pragmatic, doesn’t it?

If you’re ready to go deep on this sync technology to build enterprise apps that run on Windows tablets and laptops, click this link to check out and purchase my book, “Keeping Windows 8 Tablets in Sync with SQL Server 2012.”

– Rob

Windows Mobile Provisioner

In the Spring of 2006, I created a Mobile Device Management (MDM) package for Microsoft called Windows Mobile Provisioner.  It was used by Microsoft IT (MSIT) to rapidly provision and manage Windows Mobile devices / smartphones for our employees in the years before we developed and shipped System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008.  I drew on my experience in designing, developing, shipping, marketing, and selling the NetPerceptor MDM package for the cloud (Level 3) back in 2003 with my co-founder Darren.  Of course, OMA DM and CSPs made creating an MDM system much easier in 2006.

Windows Mobile Provisioner fully integrated with Active Directory to allow the management of policies, settings, and over-the-air (OTA) software distribution based on Microsoft users and groups.  As you might imagine, there was a Management and Reporting dashboard as well as a mobile client for user self-service.

The first image below shows the client app where a user could rapidly configure Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) from a single screen:

Mobile Provisioner: Exchange Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second image below shows the client app’s ability to configure the data connections for different mobile operators globally:

Mobile Provisioner: Data Connections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last image below shows how the client app allowed users to change the themes of their smartphone:

Mobile Provisioner: Device Themes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, my MDM solution sent health metrics as well as device and app inventory to the server for analysis.  Administrators could push out patches, anti-virus definitions, ROM packages, and other software to selected devices.  Apps could also be remotely uninstalled.  In addition to the features described in the images above, the rich client app that accompanied the MDM agent gave users the ability to view and download apps, ring tones, and other content made available to users and groups via Active Directory security. I certainly hope the MDM solution your company is using “at least” does all the stuff I just mentioned from a long time ago.

It was a great experience being an early pioneer in the Mobile Device Management (MDM) space; and the first to do it in the cloud at the beginning of the 21st century.  Back then, I could count all the MDM competitors on my two hands.  Fast-forward to 2012, I think there’s over 100 different players in this space.  The majority of them are indistinguishable from each other as they all target the identical MDM APIs exposed by iOS and Android.  As usual, differentiation will be invented by marketers.

Good Times,

Rob

Books and Taxes

Wow!  Just opened a 1099 tax document for 2011 from Apress.  People must still be buying my old books on eMbedded Visual Basic, the .NET Compact Framework 2.0, and SQL Server Compact 2.0.  The Pocket PC and Windows Mobile live on!

A separate 1099 for Hood Canal Press tells me that my SQL Server Merge Replication books are still killing it!  Our world of disconnected devices require efficient data sync now more than ever.  Despite a variety of sync technologies out there, Merge is still the best!

Sync Framework v4 is now Open Source, and ready to Connect any Device to SQL Server and SQL Azure

The profound effects of the Consumerization of IT (CoIT) is blurring the lines between consumers and the enterprise.  The fact that virtually every type of mobile device is now a candidate to make employees productive means that cross-platform, enabling technologies are a must.  Luckily, Microsoft has brought the power to synchronize data with either SQL Server on-premise or SQL Azure in the cloud to the world of mobility.  If you’ve ever synched the music on your iPhone with iTunes, the calendar on your Android device with Gmail, or the Outlook email on your Windows Phone with Exchange, then you understand the importance of sync.  In my experience architecting and building enterprise mobile apps for the world’s largest organizations over the last decade, data sync has always been a critical ingredient.

The new Sync Framework Toolkit found on MSDN builds on the existing Sync Framework 2.1’s ability to create disconnected applications, making it easier to expose data for synchronization to apps running on any client platform.  Where Sync Framework 2.1 required clients to be based on Windows, this free toolkit allows other Microsoft platforms to be used for offline clients such as Silverlight, Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile, Windows Embedded Handheld, and new Windows Slates.   Additionally, non-Microsoft platforms such as iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Blackberries and browsers supporting HTML5 are all first-class sync citizens.  The secret is that we no longer require the installation of the Sync Framework runtime on client devices.  When coupled with use of an open protocol like OData for data transport, no platform or programming language is prevented from synchronizing data with our on-premise and cloud databases.  When the data arrives on your device, you can serialize it as JSON, or insert it into SQL Server Compact or SQLite depending on your platform preferences.

The Sync Framework Toolkit provides all the features enabled by theSync Framework 4.0 October 2010 CTP.  We are releasing the toolkit as source code samples on MSDN with the source code utilizing Sync Framework 2.1.  Source code provides the flexibility to customize or extend the capabilities we have provided to suit your specific requirements. The client-side source code in the package is released under the Apache 2.0 license and the server-side source code under the MS-LPL license.  The Sync Framework 2.1 is fully supported by Microsoft and the mobile-enabling source code is yours to use, build upon, and support for the apps you create.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now some of you might be wondering why you would use a sync technology to move data rather than SOAP or REST web services.  The reason has to do with performance and bandwidth efficiency.  Using SOA, one would retrieve all the data needed to the device in order to see what has changed in SQL Server.  The same goes for uploading data.  Using the Sync Framework Toolkit, only the changes, or deltas, are transmitted over the air.  The boosts performance and reduces bandwidth usage which saves time and money in a world of congested mobile data networks with capped mobile data plans.  You also get a feature called batching, which breaks up the data sent over wireless networks into manageable pieces.  This not only prevents you from blowing out your limited bandwidth, but it also keeps you from using too much RAM memory both on the server and your memory-constrained mobile device.  When combined with conflict resolution and advanced filtering, I’m sold!

I think you’ll find the Sync Framework Toolkit to be an immensely valuable component of your MEAP solutions for the enterprise as well as the ones you build for consumers.

Keep Synching,

Rob

 

Performance and Memory Management Improvements with Windows Embedded Handheld

A lot has changed since the launch of Windows Phone in the Fall of 2010.  Microsoft now has a compelling phone platform that targets consumers inside and outside the office.  One thing that that hasn’t changed is the widespread use of Windows Embedded Handheld to solve tough enterprise mobility problems.  It should be no surprise that over 80% of enterprise handhelds shipped are running Windows Mobile or Windows Embedded Handheld.  They include support for barcode scanning, RFID reading, rugged hardware, every type of wireless, full device encryption, complete over-the-air software distribution and device managment support, FIPS compliance, and both capacitive touch and stylus operation.  On the application platform side of the equation, they have rich support for WinForm development using Visual Studio and the .NET Compact Framework, C++ and a full-featured database with built-in sync capabilities via SQL Server Compact.  They can easily communicate with WCF SOAP and REST web services running on Windows Servers on-premise or with Azure in the cloud.  Support for Merge Replication means faster time to market to get device synchronizing with SQL Server with almost no coding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since Windows Embedded Handheld uses an advanced version of the operating system kernel used by Windows Mobile 6.5.3, many of the techniques and best practices I’ve taugh customers and developers all over the world still apply.  While it still uses the slotted memory model found in Windows CE 5 with 32 processes and 32 MB of memory per process, you’ll find that numerous enhancements and tuning has taken place to give your line of business apps more of what they need.  I’m talking about more memory per process and improved performance.  Therefore, I’d like you to sit back and watch the video of a presentation I delivered at Tech Ed in Los Angeles a couple of years ago so you can better learn what this mobile platform has to offer in the form of better memory management and improved performance:

A recent Gartner report recommends that organizations should stay with Windows Embedded Handheld as the best mobile platform for enterprise line of business needs.  Great devices are available from OEMs like Intermec, Motorola, Psion, and Honeywell just to name a few.  I hope this video helps you with any memory management or performance issues you may need to deal with in your enterprise mobile apps.

Best Regards,
Rob