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Microsoft shuffles Mobility Group

The company is shaking up the division, swapping executives and changing the software-release calendar in an effort to jump-start the company's push into handhelds and cell phones.

Microsoft is shaking up its Mobility Group, swapping executives and changing the calendar under which software gets released in an effort to jump-start the company's push into handhelds and cell phones.

The most recent change involves a new manager for the division. Kevin Shields has quietly become the new general manager, the company confirmed Monday, taking over for Ben Waldman, the division's vice president, who is taking a personal leave.

Change has been a constant for the group since last October when the company released an upgrade of its Pocket PC 2002 handheld operating system. Around the same time, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer began to personally oversee the group. Since then, two other key executives have left the group.

Other changes involve scheduled updates to the Pocket PC operating system for handhelds and the Smartphone operating system for cell phones. Sources familiar with the company's plans say that upgrades to these operating systems will be synchronized with updates to Windows. Synchronizing the releases will allow Microsoft to more tightly integrate these products as well as better coordinate the overall marketing plan.

Windows typically gets updated in the fall and spring. Pocket PC upgrades have generally taken place on an independent schedule.

The Mobility Group has been unable to make significant headway against major rivals Palm, in the handheld market, and Nokia, in the cell phone market, according to analysts. Microsoft remains behind both companies in market share and is making targeted efforts to supplant them.

Analysts had been predicting that Microsoft would be able to make major gains in market share against both companies but that has failed to happen at this point. Sales of Pocket PC devices, which come from Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, among others, have actually grown faster than sales of Palm devices, in terms of percentage, but Palm-based products still account for the lion's share of the market.

Personal leave, like the one Waldman is taking, can last up to a year. He is expected to return to Microsoft. A Microsoft representative said that this differs from a sabbatical, which usually lasts a few months, but generally executives who leave on sabbatical don't return to Microsoft.

Shields will report to Pieter Knook, who is vice president of mobile devices and network service providers at Microsoft. Vice President of Marketing Juha Christensen, who came to Microsoft from Symbian, remains with the Mobility Group and continues to report directly to Ballmer.

Former Mobility Director Phil Holden is now a director with the MSN group, and former Mobility General Manager Rogers Weed is now a vice president in the PC Experience group.