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Microsoft, Palm support wireless standard

When it comes to devices, Microsoft and Palm Computing rarely agree on anything. But the two companies are now supporting a messaging standard for wireless devices.

When it comes to devices, Microsoft and Palm Computing rarely agree on anything. But this week the two companies separately announced support for a messaging standard for wireless devices.

Both Microsoft and Palm Computing will support the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), a specification for sending and reading Internet content and messages on small wireless devices. Microsoft will incorporate the protocol through its Wireless Knowledge venture, while Palm will license Phone.com's WAP-compatible browser and re-distribute it to licensees of its Palm software.

The WAP Forum, an industry group comprised of Phone.com, Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola, is working on a wireless application standard for service providers, software developers, and content providers. Products supporting the standard are expected to hit the market by the end of 2000.

The addition of industry heavyweights Microsoft and Palm Computing instantly enhances the group's credibility, its work to expand the wireless market, and interoperability among mobile phones, according to observers.

That is not to say that there are not still some major kinks to be worked out, especially on Palm Computing's side. Palm is not adopting the forum's specification for its own devices, it insists. Instead, it will support a standard browser for wireless products developed by its licensees.

The maker of the popular PalmPilot handheld has developed its own proprietary technology for wireless Internet messaging, dubbed Web Clipping. The technology, which is currently only used in the Palm VII wireless device, reformats Internet data by optimizing graphics-heavy content for text-based devices. Web clipping essentially delivers information directly to Palm VII users via the Palm.net service.

Web clipping has been criticized because it's not an industry standard technology. In other words, content providers must reformat their Web sites if they wish to be carried on Palm.net.

While Palm will continue to promote Web Clipping, it is licensing the WAP-compliant Phone.com browser for licensees using the Palm platform in wireless phone handsets. The company has said it plans aggressive licensing in the wireless handset market, and Palm's support of another technology in WAP may create an additional headache for developers and content providers.

"The context that provides meaning to this is Palm's overall strategy to license our technology to a wide variety of market segments, including the wireless handset space," said David Weilmuenster, director of platform strategy and planning for Palm. "Our goal is to broaden acceptance of the Palm platform. This is a way for Palm to participate in a much larger market than we're able to do with just our own projects."

Although Palm's membership is targeted to bolster its relationships with wireless phone licensees, Weilmuenster did not rule out using the WAP specification in future Palm-branded devices. "It's wise not to ever say 'never,'" he said. "But at this moment, we're doing very well with Web Clipping."

Weilmuenster did not flinch at the news that Microsoft's joint venture with Qualcomm, dubbed Wireless Knowledge, is also joining the standards group.

"Like any standard-setting body, you're almost always sitting across the table from someone who is a competitor," he said. "It's no more a problem for us than it is for anyone else. There's always a delicate balance between what you share and what you keep for your own."

Wireless Knowledge, which provides wireless data through its Revolv service, said it will support all wireless standards agreed upon by the group. Revolv is marketed directly to wireless carriers and will be available next summer.

"The WAP Forum consists of industry leaders from an array of technology sectors, including our parent companies Microsoft and Qualcomm, that share an incredibly important goal that will help advance the global expansion of wireless data," said Dave Whalen, vice president of sales and marketing for Wireless Knowledge, in a prepared statement yesterday.