The company's inaugural conference specifically on this topic was co-located with the CTIA Wireless 2003 show in New Orleans.
"This business is something that probably will be the fastest growing of all of our businesses," Gates said.
Microsoft is positioning its .NET Framework to pull it all together, allowing all of the various form factors to operate on the same platform. A subset of the .NET Framework, the .NET Compact Framework, is designed for the lower-power devices like PDAs and Smartphones. The plan is to support mobile applications ranging from field sales to mobile gaming, delivery routing and field service.
A subset of the .NET Compact Framework serves as a platform for the SPOT watches, which operate on a one-way network somewhat akin to pagers, driving information like weather or traffic alerts to the devices.
By creating a single platform, Gates said Microsoft aims to simplify the jobs of developers by allowing them to leverage existing skills and make it easy to extend existing applications into a mobile ecosystem. To that end, he said the next version of Visual Studio, Visual Studio .NET 2003, will ship with support for the .NET Compact Framework. The development environment is slated for release on April 24.
"We're in a significant investment mode, and we're going to invest and invest and invest until we get the best platform," Gates said.
All of this builds upon Microsoft's investment in XML Web services -- the technology behind its .NET Framework -- which now pervades every aspect of the company's strategy.
"Web services is something Microsoft has really bet its whole strategy around," Gates said. He added, "This essentially is the infrastructure that will fulfill the promises of the Internet from the late 90s and early part of this decade. XML Web services are a perfect fit for mobile devices which allow code on a device to go and get services remotely."
Gates urged the developers attending the conference to dive in early, noting that it is the developers that begin early that will be in a position to capitalize on the rising wave of mobility solutions utilizing Wi-Fi (define), Bluetooth and cellular data technology like GPRS (define).
"The success we've had depends upon partners building tools," he said, adding that Microsoft has created a program under which it will provide 25,000 developers with Pocket PC devices. He also said its Smartphone Developer Kit will include a device.