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Microsoft, Compaq shake on handhelds

Though they're offering few details, the PC and software kingpins plan to collaborate on making it easier for handheld devices to connect wirelessly to corporate networks.

Compaq Computer and Microsoft said Monday that they would collaborate on making it easier for handheld devices to connect wirelessly to corporate networks.

While many handset and handheld makers have focused on connectivity from mobile devices to the Internet, Compaq and Microsoft are betting that corporations are eager for employees to connect to the information and resources on corporate networks.

"Email and access to data on networks and intranets, that's what most corporations really want," Ted Clark, Compaq's vice president of wireless Internet solutions, said last week.

But neither company offered significant insight into what products resulting from their collaboration would look like or when they might be available. The handheld alliance may be more a sign of Compaq?s increased emphasis on delivering services.

Central to the announcement is Compaq's developing a services business for setting up and maintaining corporate wireless data and email access using its hardware and Microsoft software.

"I think you're going to see an increased focus from Compaq on services, technical as well as professional," said Gartner analyst Kevin Knox. "Wireless is a good opportunity for them."

As part of the agreement, Compaq will sell Microsoft's mobile Internet software on ProLiant servers, offering mobile access to corporate data and email using Compaq?s iPaq Pocket PC, the companies said.

The two companies also will work jointly on a beta trial of Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 Server. Part of Microsoft?s .Net strategy, the product builds wireless email and data access features into the Windows 2000 operating system. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft plans to ship the wireless connectivity software during the first half of next year.

Microsoft started to move into the mobile Internet space with the July 1999 acquisition of Sendit, a Stockholm-based software developer. Sendit had developed a technology called Internet Cellular Smart Access (ICSA), which enabled digital cellular providers to become mobile Internet service providers using Microsoft BackOffice or Exchange server.

In June of this year, Microsoft expanded operations in Sweden by opening the Mobility Solutions Center in Stockholm. The facility marked Microsoft?s move to bring wireless connectivity products to market around ICSA email server, Mobile Explorer and Pocket PC handhelds, among other products.

Compaq increased its emphasis on corporate wireless connectivity after Michael Capellas took over as CEO in July 1999. The Houston-based PC maker quickly added wireless networking options to its Armada product, but more recently has turned its attention to the iPaq Pocket PC handheld.

At the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas next week, Compaq plans to unveil new wireless connectivity solutions for retrieving corporate email and data using the iPaq handheld. Compaq will show off new connectivity options as well as server technologies built around ICSA.