Microsoft's stinger adds to wireless buzz

Microsoft lifted the curtain a bit this week on new software for smart phones that together with the company's wireless server platform could prove popular with information technology managers looking for application integration. But the company's approach won't solve IT's biggest roadblock to wireless application deployment: limited bandwidth.

Integration will be critical if Microsoft is to lift itself from its underdog status in the wireless arena, according to Elliott Hamilton, an analyst at Washington-based Strategis Group Inc.

Most analysts put the company's market share at around 10% for wireless handhelds.

This week, Microsoft demonstrated a prototype smart phone from a development project called Stinger. It has a larger-than-normal cell-phone color screen for displaying text and images, a Web browser and applications, such as a mobile version of Microsoft Outlook that will enable users to synchronize data between mobile devices and servers. That synchronization will occur via AirStream, the company's code name for its middleware that translates server-based applications into a format viewable by wireless devices.

Samsung Electronics in Seoul, South Korea, will introduce a line of Stinger-based smart phones in North America next year.

Vince Borrego, an IT manager at San Carlos, California-based Epocrates, a health care start-up, said he's frustrated that his wireless Palm handhelds and Nextel Communications cell phones can't synchronize Outlook data with his Microsoft Exchange back end. If Stinger devices and AirStream solve this problem, he said, "it would be very wonderful."Jeff Misenti, director of Internet application development at Suretrade Inc., a financial services company that provides wireless access for its customers, said his Lincoln, R.I.-based firm would embrace Microsoft's approach because his users access data from all kinds of wireless devices.

Consumers will still use a variety of client devices, but corporate users might adopt Microsoft-branded clients as a standard, said Sergey Fradkov, chief technology officer at W-Trade Technologies Inc. in New York.

Hamilton agreed. "[Microsoft's] an underdog in the wireless field now," he said. "But if they leverage integration with the desktop, it'll help them with large companies."Fradkov said Microsoft has been designing devices that require more memory, use color screens and include features such as MP3 playback, all of which add to the cost of a handheld device.

James Niccolai and Ashlee Vance of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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