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Microsoft phones to go clubbing

Windows Mobile Start Services will allow some AT&T Wireless subscribers using a Motorola cell phone to download extra features.

Microsoft on Monday plans to introduce a new service for AT&T Wireless subscribers, allowing them to set up mobile phone preferences using a PC.

The service, which is available for subscribers using Motorola cell phones who run the software giant's operating system, aims to make it easier for customers to set up e-mail access, screen savers, ring tones and other features.

In the United States the clubs are popular with cell phone subscribers who are uncomfortable with the cell phone's cramped keypad and unfamiliar interface. "We all like to do things differently," said Jason Gordon, Microsoft's mobile devices product manager. "Some people like to use the PC interface, others the cell phone touch screens, others the touch pads."

Some clubs also sell downloadable games and business applications. Gordon said that all of Windows Mobile Start Services items are free, but are subject to AT&T Wireless .

Microsoft's service will initially be available to owners of the Motorola MPx200, which uses Microsoft's cell phone operating system. Gordon said the company is "certainly open to bringing the experience to other cell phone operators," but he declined to elaborate on expansion plans.

Microsoft is battling the world's major handset makers for dominance of the cell phone OS market. Gordon said that Microsoft-powered phones had "significant" success in the last 18 months, particularly in Europe and China. But analysts expect Microsoft's efforts to lag behind those of rival OS Symbian, a London-based consortium owned by Psion, Nokia and others.

In 2003, handset makers are expected to ship about 1.8 million phones with Microsoft's Smartphone OS, according to research firm IDC. In comparison, IDC estimates that about 8.3 million devices running Symbian's OS will be delivered. By 2007, about 16.5 million Microsoft-powered handsets are projected to ship worldwide, compared with 49.2 million units that have Symbian software.