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Microsoft vis-a-vis the App Store

Where exactly is Microsoft when it comes to the iPhone? Will there be Microsoft applications for the iPhone?'s Ina Fried sorts through the hype.

When Apple launched its App Store on Thursday, I checked to see if I could find anything from Redmond.

There were applications from and Oracle, but nothing from Microsoft. The company has made some noise about wanting to be on the iPhone, particularly with Silverlight, but it doesn't appear the software maker has anything imminent.

"I'm not aware of anything," said Scott Horn, a general manager in Microsoft's mobile communications business. Microsoft has said that it was looking at Apple's software developer kit and I wouldn't be surprised if some business units take the plunge, particularly folks like the Dynamics group that competes with the likes of Oracle and Salesforce.

The other key issue is what is Microsoft going to do about the noise that's inevitably going to be generated now that the iPhone is "open" to third-party developers. While there is much to knock Microsoft about when it comes to the mobile space, being open isn't really its problem.

For years, Microsoft has had an open platform with Windows Mobile. Developers can sell or give away any program they want to run on Microsoft's handhelds and phones. They don't need Microsoft's approval, nor is Microsoft looking to take a cut of the action. (Apple gets 30 percent of software sold via the App Store, although it does handle hosting and transaction services.)

"We have a really vibrant ecosystem," Horn said. "We have more apps than any other platform and we have more developers targeting us."

Horn said he expected Apple to get a fair amount of attention for its App Store.

"If you go from zero to 500 (third-party applications) it looks like you're exploding," he said, adding that Microsoft has nearly 18,000 applications.

"We have more applications and more phones in the hands of people and that's what matters at the end of the day," he said.

I asked Horn if he thought it was important to have a Microsoft version of the App Store right on Windows Mobile devices. He noted that Microsoft does have an online catalog (for the PC) that offers information about each program and connections to partners where you can buy the applications.

Probably the closest thing to the App Store is a third-party reseller called Handango that sells programs for Windows Mobile, as well as for Palm OS, Symbian, and Linux devices.

The real issue for Microsoft, though, is the iPhone itself.

Apple has a clear lead in areas like user interface and Web browsing. Microsoft has promised to close the gap. The next version of Windows Mobile--Windows Mobile 7--is expected to have similar touch gestures as the iPhone.

On the browsing front, Microsoft has pledged to improve things somewhat, bringing Internet Explorer 6 capability to Windows Mobile by the end of the year.

"Mobile browsing is super important," Horn said, though he wouldn't say whether the new browser will have support for the features like zooming and gestures that have been popularized by the iPhone.