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Mobile

Microsoft extends Web presence

The software giant introduces an interactive version of its online service for cell phones and handheld computers that lets users send messages and make Internet purchases.

NEW ORLEANS--In a move that both expands Microsoft's Internet reach and underscores its recent embrace of the communications industry, the software giant today announced a new version of its wireless Web portal technology.

Microsoft executives, including chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates, unveiled MSN Mobile 2.0, the latest iteration of Microsoft's portal Web site, which has been customized for wireless Net connections.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, Microsoft also announced agreements with Nextel Communications and AirTouch Cellular, two of the nation's largest wireless carriers, as well as see related story: Microsoft's call for wireless with WebLink Wireless and Totally Free Paging, to offer the updated portal to their subscribers.

Microsoft apparently was not able to bring several other pending deals to fruition.

The MSN Mobile 2.0 service, expected to be available in April, will for the first time offer two-way functions that will allow users to both send and receive information from their Internet-enabled phones and handheld computing devices, as well as make Internet purchases. Microsoft's first version of the special wireless portal only offered one-way information, and did not allow users to access their Hotmail email accounts, one of the most popular Web-based email services on the Net.

"They needed to add two-way features. It is very key to have those kinds of features over the next three months as the (wireless Net access) market takes off," said Eddie Hold, principal wireless industry analyst for Current Analysis, a market research firm.

"It helps (Microsoft) break into the communications market and expands their Internet presence. MSN has always been looked at as second-rate when compared to Yahoo and AOL," Hold said.

Microsoft's strong presence here, at the cellular industry's Wireless 2000 annual trade show, marks the latest indication of the software giant's commitment to the communications industry. Long the realm of Unix-based computers, Microsoft has aggressively targeted high-end computing systems for communications companies as a desired market--particularly as Microsoft faces saturation in the consumer desktop arena due to its impressive market dominance there.

Executives believe the wireless industry, as much as the cable or fiber-optic markets, represents a huge opportunity.

"Everything that we do, from our Internet properties, to the Windows desktop, to the Office applications themselves, we're thinking now, 'Let's get these out into that mobile space,' " Gates told an attentive audience this morning.

According to an internal email obtained earlier this month by CNET News.com, Microsoft also is working other wireless partnerships that were expected to be announced at the show. A "major deal with (British Telecom) and AT&T" was see related story: Companies fight over wireless users revealed in the memo, as was a supposed partnership with Sprint PCS, but Gates did not announce those rumored alliances.

Microsoft did announce a deal with wireless technology provider and chipmaker Qualcomm to jointly develop new wireless technologies. The two companies, which also are joint investors in wireless data start-up Wireless Knowledge, will work together to allow Microsoft's microbrowser and other software work smoothly on phones based on Qualcomm technology.

Gates likened the alliance to Microsoft's cooperation with Intel and Compaq Computer on desktop semiconductor and PC design.

Pat Fox, Microsoft's group manager for the wireless division, also demonstrated prototype software, tentatively called Priorities, which prioritizes email and other information, thereby notifying users on their cell phone, pager or other device when appropriate.