Gates casts doubt on WAP future

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is splintered and should have followed Internet protocols more closely, but XML (Extensible Markup Language) will cover a multitude of sins as the Internet extends to mobile phones, said Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates.

Microsoft’s .NET strategy is heavily geared toward extending Internet presence to devices beyond the desktop PC, and the company has some key partnerships with carriers to develop mobile data solutions. So the software giant’s view on the long-term viability of the WAP standard being pushed by Nokia Corp., L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. and others is likely to be influential.

At his media conference in Sydney, Australia, on Monday Gates described issues with WAP as “one of those plumbing things that most of the world shouldn’t have to be thinking about.”

“Because the mobile world tried to start doing data before the Internet really exploded, they got off on some standards that were fine, but they were just different to the Internet standards,” said Gates. “So in the WAP world the way you describe a page of information is not done using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which is the way it’s done in the PC world. And even some of the other layers are a little bit different.”

However, Gates said, “the magic of software” should be able to hide many differences.

“What we’ve said is that it’s very easy in a cellphone to have a microbrowser that can support not only WAP but also HTML and XML. Why do I bring up XML there? The key issue is, when a company wants to have a presence on the Internet, they don’t want to have to build it once for the PC, once for the TV, once for the cellphone with a certain screen and once for the cellphone with another screen.”

“They want to write a Web application and then just at the last minute take the information that needs to be presented and say, okay do we pass it down as XML, which means a program at the other end can deal with it, or do we map it into one of these screen sizes and screen protocols – HTML or WAP or whatever?

“By designing the Internet applications platform where the form that you plug into is just the last decision, we can simplify it so that Web site creators don’t have to know all the details about which version of which cellphone happens to have which WAP commands. Because there isn’t one WAP – there are multiple versions of WAP. Not only does the screen vary but how much of which kind of WAP commands they did varies quite considerably as well.”

Gates touted .NET as a way for developers to be able to write a Web application for the PC and easily be able to map it onto cellphone screens too.

“It’s one of those things that comes with the evolution of the industry. The wireless guys and the Internet guys coming together and creating standards – but without giving up the fact that there is a bunch of phones out there with WAP in them. You don’t want to drop that, you want to embrace it. Microsoft has a kind of unification strategy that lets you get the best of all those things.”

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