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Motorola to purchase Starfish

The communications giant will acquire the software company in a deal estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars.

Motorola is digging in for a battle in the digital wireless market.

The telecommunication equipment giant announced last night that it is buying Starfish Software, a Scotts Valley, California-based firm run by Philippe Kahn, the charismatic entrepreneur best known for founding Borland International, now renamed Inprise, in the 1980s.

Financial details of the Starfish acquisition were not disclosed but Motorola president and chief operating officer Bob Growney said the cash-and-stock deal is valued at several hundred million dollars. The merger was announced at a surprise event in San Francisco last night.

Starfish makes software, called TrueSynch, for wireless devices. Motorola executives said the purchase is intended to catapult Motorola deep into the digital wireless market by creating a new generation of wireless devices that are connected to PCs and the Internet.

"We have been talking about a new Motorola," Growney said at a late evening news conference in San Francisco to announce the deal. "This is the new Motorola."

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Flamboyant and outspoken founder Phillipe Kahn launched the privately held Starfish in 1994. Kahn maintained the chairman's seat at Borland until November of 1995.

In the early 1990s, Kahn established a reputation as a fierce competitor, as his company battled Microsoft in the development tool and desktop application software markets.

Starfish is best known for creating the calendar and scheduling software in Rex, Citizen Watch's credit card size device that is marketed under the Rolodex brand by Franklin Electronic Publishers.

Starfish's software helps synchronize data in the device with calendar and scheduling information on a PC or other electronic system. The software competes directly with 3Com's Palm Pilot and works with Microsoft's Outlook 98 scheduling system and Windows CE handheld device operating system.

But Kahn is not turning over complete control of his company to Motorola. In fact, he will remain president of Starfish, which is to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola and remain based in Scotts Valley.

The entire deal came down rather quickly. Motorola invested an undisclosed amount in Starfish in October. Growney said the talks to buy up the rest of the company began only a month ago.

"There is a really strong shared vision of an opportunity for the future," Growney said.

The first products from the merged company are expected to be released in about six months. Motorola executives said the company is embedding Starfish's TrueSynch software in cellular telephones.

Starfish said the TrueSync Technology Platform includes a set of integrated software components, such as the TrueSync MicroFramework, TrueSync MicroApplications, TrueSync Desktop, TrueSync Synchronization Engine, and TrueSync Server. The components are intended as a development platform for building wireless communication systems.