Windows Phone 7, which is Microsoft’s revamped smartphone operating system, and Silverlight, the company’s rich Internet application platform, might seem geared primarily to glitzy, for-fun applications.
But Microsoft observers see an enterprise business application case for these two budding technologies. (Silverlight is being paired with the XNA gaming app dev platform to serve as the application development platform for Windows Phone 7.)
During the recent Mix10 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft showed Windows Phone 7 used for entertainment applications, such as photo storage and an electronic diary. Windows Phone 7 handsets will also serve as a Zune video and music player. As for Silverlight, Microsoft cited Silverlight’s prominence in entertainment, including streaming coverage of the Olympics and a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
“They do seem to be focusing quite heavily on the social side of things,” notes Lauren Fear, a graphic designer at software development house Black Marble.
But that focus on games and entertainment obscures the potential for business usage of Silverlight and Windows Phone 7. For example, Microsoft also demoed the Silverlight-based Simple Lister, an eBay selling application, and the company noted the use of Silverlight in business applications by companies like SAP and Xerox. Windows Phone 7, meanwhile, can be used for such business purposes as email triage and calendaring, Microsoft says.
“I think it is an answer to the iPhone, but more important, it’s a natural extension of the other things they’re doing with Xbox and with Zune and with Windows Media Center PCs,” says Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, a trade organization representing about 4,000 small and midsize IT companies globally.
“[The new phone operating system is] sort of a natural, evolutionary step to go that direction, and I think it’s why they started over with that technology,” Zuck says.
He anticipates development of business applications for Windows Phone 7 and Silverlight, even if it means recreational applications get the attention at first. “The fun applications are what draw people to these platforms initially, and the business cases start to come over time,” Zuck says.
The infrastructure for real business software development
When developers get beyond games and other “fun” applications, infrastructure is there to support more serious applications leveraging databases and Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration platform, Zuck says. With Silverlight and other tools, Microsoft is trying to create a single experience across multiple platforms ranging from the phone to the TV and computer, he notes.
Ethan Nagel, president of software development shop Nagel Technologies, says Silverlight could be used to quickly develop Web applications, such as a spreadsheet or an interface to a financial application, or perhaps an order entry system. “You use Silverlight instead of building standard Windows forms,” he notes.
“For me as a business developer, you’re always in a situation where you’re trying to figure out what’s the quickest way I can get this application out to my users, how can I make it easy to use,” Nagel says.
Silverlight can help developers avoid dealing with a Web framework that could be cumbersome, he adds: “I just think Silverlight is a way that you can develop these applications much more quickly and easily.”
Early adopters are generally positive
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, meanwhile, has not found any great use for Silverlight, notes Adam Brehm, a software developer at the company. But Brehm says he can see business application opportunities for the Pivot data visualization technology in Silverlight, and he’s worked on a Silverlight-based, video-oriented coaching application geared to high school sports.
At BI Software, the company already is working on a business application for an insurer that will run on Windows Phone 7, says company president Darek Danielewski. He lauds Microsoft’s new mobile phone software.
“The fact that Microsoft decided to give a complete overhaul for the Windows phone, that gives me hope because the Windows Mobile platform was lagging for some time in terms of performance,” Danielewski said.
“Developing for Windows Mobile was difficult, he added. “There were myriad platforms, myriad screen resolutions — and it was always a challenge,” Danielewski said.
Some Windows Mobile apps can be easily adjusted to run on Windows Phone 7, while others will need ground-up rewrites. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it doesn’t tie developers down. “I just think it’s a vast improvement,” says Colin Sparrow, a Web developer at Camosun College, in Victoria, British Columbia.