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Microsoft-Nokia pact takes aim at RIM

The BlackBerry maker, not Google or Apple, is the main target of the new team effort. Also, mobile Office apps for Symbian could take until 2011.

While the iPhone may be the apple of everyone's eye, Nokia says that its main goal in partnering with Microsoft is taking on BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

"This is really about creating a formidable challenge for RIM rather than anyone else," Nokia executive vice president Kai Oistamo said in a conference call Wednesday.

Andersson Nokia

As first reported Tuesday by CNET News, Microsoft and Nokia are working together to bring mobile versions of the software maker's Office programs onto Nokia phones running the Symbian operating system. The companies said Wednesday that the collaboration also extends to Microsoft's unified communications and System Center management tools.

In an interview, Nokia executive vice president Robert Andersson said that RIM has an almost dominant position in the North American market for mobile e-mail. "That's the application where they really are strong," he said.

By bringing the full Office suite to Symbian, Andersson said, Nokia hopes to do RIM one better. "What we are bring with this collaboration is a much deeper much richer experience."

But the fruits of the partnership will take some time. For next year, the companies are committing only to bringing a version of the Communicator instant messaging program to Symbian.

"The first deliverable is next year," Microsoft corporate vice presidentTakeshi Numoto said in an interview. "We're not really talking about things beyond that."

Given that, it seems reasonable to think it could well be until 2011 before the mobile versions of Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and OneNote make their way onto the first Symbian phones, and even then the rollout will start with just the E-series of devices.

Microsoft and Nokia started discussions about six months ago, but the work has centered on finalizing the business details.

"We just basically signed the contract a few weeks ago," Andersson said. "Getting the big teams on board is only beginning now."

Numoto Microsoft

Andersson said the partnership will involve hundreds of dedicated workers from the two companies.

For Microsoft, the move helps the software maker in its goal of fending off competition from Google and extending Office from the desktop into the larger world of Web, PC, and phone. "Extending that reach to 200 million Nokia smartphones was a natural for us," Numoto said.

Numoto tried to downplay the impact that the collaboration would have on Windows Mobile, which competes with Symbian-based devices. Until now, one of Windows Mobile's selling points has been that it is the only phone operating system with mobile versions of Office, though other phones have third-party tools that let users view and edit Office documents.

"We truly believe and are committed to Windows Mobile," Numoto said. "We are excited about Windows Mobile 6.5 coming this fall... As you know, in the technology industry there is always an element of collaboration and competition."

For its part, Nokia said it is committed to Symbian and has no plans to start offering Windows Mobile phones.

"There are no such plans," Oistamo said on the conference call.


Rivals work together
Ina Fried talks with Jennifer Guevin about what each company hopes to get by partnering up.

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