Microsoft Gears Up for Wireless Web

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA (08/08/2000) - Microsoft Corp. is ramping up its efforts to become a major player in the emerging world of the wireless Internet.

At a luncheon here Tuesday at its new Silicon Valley offices, company officials provided a glimpse of new Microsoft products under development aimed at end-users, service providers and corporations. The new software includes client-side products for smart phones and handheld computers as well as server software that can be used to build and deploy wireless services.

Products under development include AirStream, a software platform for carriers and corporations on which they can build and deploy wireless applications as well as manage a network of wireless devices, said Ben Waldman, Microsoft vice president in charge of Pocket PC and wireless applications.

"Most importantly, it's a platform on which others can build, providing tools that others can use to wirelessly enable existing applications and build new ones," he said. Waldman declined to say when AirStream would be delivered.

Microsoft is also working on a project called Stinger which will provide handset manufacturers with the specifications for building Internet-enabled smart phones, in a similar way to how Pocket PC provided an outline for building PDAs (personal digital assistants).

The company showed a prototype Stinger device here that included a large color screen for displaying text and images, a Web browser and applications such as a mobile version of Microsoft Outlook, a calendar and a contacts list. The mobile version of Outlook will enable users to synchronize the exchange of their personal data between mobile devices and servers, according to Waldman.

The goal of Stinger is to create a device that includes functions of a PDA but is still primarily a mobile phone, Waldman said. Like a PDA, the device contains some local storage that lets users browse e-mail that has been previously downloaded when they are offline. This feature might be useful for a user traveling on an airplane for example. The Stinger device will also allow users to shop from their phone and will include a unified messaging service enabling them to access voicemail and e-mail from the same device, he added.

Stinger is based on a version of Windows CE that has been adapted for the low-power and small screen requirements of a mobile phone, and will allow users to browse content written in both WML (wireless markup language) and HTML (hypertext markup language.)Microsoft has stumbled over previous attempts to put its Windows operating system into handheld devices. Early versions of Pocket PC, for example, were panned by critics as being too complex and for trying to replicate the PC interface on a small device. The company showed signs Tuesday of having learned from its mistakes in the past.

"The key thing is that people want solutions not technologies. Nobody wakes up every morning and says, 'I wish I had Windows on my mobile phone.' Well, maybe Bill does," Waldman quipped, referring to Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

Carriers that offer Stinger-based phones to their customers will be able to modify the user interface to display their own brand, Waldman said.

Microsoft has already announced that Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will use Stinger to create a smart phone which the South Korean company plans to launch next year. The Stinger prototype was shown here Tuesday to give users and handset makers a taste of the kind of features they can expect, the software vendor said.

Microsoft's wireless strategy also draws on existing products such as its Windows 2000 operating system and a new version of its groupware -- Exchange 2000 -- that is being readied for delivery later this year, Waldman said.

Exchange is being redesigned so that it can be used to manage "millions of mailboxes at the same time," as well as incorporate videoconferencing and voicemail, he added.

The software giant is also preparing releases of its applications such as Outlook and a version of its Internet browser called Microsoft Mobile Explorer that will run on devices like mobile phone and PDAs.

For the Pocket PC, Microsoft will announce a slew of new products over the next six months that will offer a variety of fresh ways to connect to the Internet via wireless services, Waldman said. For example, AT&T Corp. will soon announce an add-on card for Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq handheld computer that will connect users with AT&T's CDPD (cellular digital packet data) wireless network.

In many ways, Microsoft hopes to achieve in the wireless world what it did in the desktop PC market, offering a broad range of software for clients and servers that create a "virtuous cycle" when used together, Waldman said. The products will be aimed at the three key elements of the wireless Internet -- the devices, the network operators and the content providers, he added.

Microsoft says there is room for other vendors in its wireless Net strategy.

"Because we're supporting standards in all these areas, you can replace any Microsoft component here with a product from another company," Waldman said.

However, he added later, "We think we can add a lot of value by making our products tightly integrated."

The software giant will compete with Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., Phone.com Inc. and many others, but the company believes it can offer a broader range of wireless offerings than any other single competitor, Waldman said.

Microsoft has partnered with major carriers around the world to help with the development of its wireless products and to encourage them to use its software.

The partners include NTT DoCoMo Inc. in Japan, British Telecommunications PLC and One2One in the U.K., Telenor in Norway and Verizon Corp. and Nextel in the U.S.

The company has also established what it called Mobile Solution Centers in several countries where carriers and corporations can work with Microsoft to test and develop wireless applications and services.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or online at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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