New Microsoft server could be a hit or MIS

Gearing up for an impact in the marketplace, Microsoft’s Mobile Information Server (MIS) is out of the gate with mixed reviews.

The MIS is an application server designed to enhance the offerings of Microsoft’s .NET enterprise applications by providing enterprise data and intranet content to users by way of mobile devices. This includes real-time access to Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, calendar, contacts and task lists using either a cellular phone or a PDA.

According to Stephen Jack, director of marketing for interactive mobile services at Rogers AT&T Wireless in Toronto, the reason for choosing the Mobile Information Server was simple.

“Our decision was largely driven by who built it,” Jack explained. “It was driven by not so much as what it is, but what it will be over time. We wanted to get on the development path and be in synch with Microsoft technology. This is important to us for a couple of reasons. It’s good technology, and we have ownership interests in it as well. Besides, staying aligned with Microsoft is never a bad thing.”

According to Edward Wu, Microsoft’s Product Manager for Microsoft DirectAccess, its customers get more than the name of a powerhouse on its product, but a depth of experience with mobility that is to be reckoned with.

“We have been working on this for quite some time and our team is not just people working on .NET and servers, it’s a team that works on whole devices,” Redmond, Wash.-based Wu said. “Many of them come from carriers and from manufacturers of these handsets, so it’s that cumulative knowledge that’s developing these products that are coming out.”

Kenneth Smiley, a remote and mobile technology analyst for Giga Information Group, insisted that Microsoft’s offering is not as robust as one might expect.

“Right now it’s just a WAP server,” Smiley said. “They launched it before they had the features that should have been there in the first release of the product. They don’t have anything feature-wise that puts them above and beyond the competition. On the opposite side of that, they couldn’t really wait any longer [to release the product] otherwise the competition’s platforms were all going to be adopted. As it is, they were late to the game, but they would have been very late to the game.”

Kevin Restivo, a Toronto-based analyst for IDC Canada, believes that whether or not Mobile Information Server’s offerings are shallow at this point, it will find a firm home in the marketplace.

“The impact is inevitably going to be a large one,” Restivo predicted. “This is part of a larger strategy, with the world’s largest software company pushing .NET into a young market. There is a lot of room to grow, and the strengths of this area are the strengths of Microsoft.”

Restivo insisted that the product’s apparent lack of innovative offerings should not serve as a deterrent to potential customers.

“This is a common knock against a lot of software products,” Restivo said. “Often times, users say that software is put out too soon. The thing with any kind of software is that it can rarely be tested and have all the bells and whistles on the first release. Any kind of packaged software release is a work in progress.

“The Mobile Information Server will likely be functional enough for first-time users,” Restivo surmised. “The features will become more defined by the user and subsequent product upgrades will look different to some degree. It’s very much in line with Microsoft’s strategy, which is to take user input and feedback and put it into subsequent releases.”