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Microsoft to get software in smart phones

Sony's new Internet-enabled cell phone will be powered by the software giant, a much-needed coup for Microsoft as it tries to reposition itself for wireless growth.

    Sony's new Internet-enabled cell phone will be powered by Microsoft software, the companies announced today, a much-needed coup for the software giant in its efforts to break into the wireless market.

    Sony will use Microsoft's Mobile Explorer software in its CMD-Z5 phone, which will use Europe's GSM network. The phone, which weighs 82 grams and is about the size of a credit card, is designed to access the Internet and email using Microsoft software. The companies announced the agreement at the CeBit industry trade show in Hannover, Germany, today, the site of numerous wireless services and content announcements this week.

    Inclusion on Sony's see related story: Microsoft's call for wirelesscell phone is a win for Microsoft, which has so far not met with tremendous success in its efforts in the wireless market. Microsoft, which until recently had tethered its chances of wireless success to its stagnating Windows CE operating system, is positioning itself to take advantage of the expected exodus from personal digital assistants, and traditional cell phones, to so-called smart phones capable of accessing the Internet and email.

    "Microsoft Mobile Explorer provided the software solution ideally supporting the product concept of the CMD-Z5," said Steffen Kieschke, manager of product planning for Sony Digital Telecommunication Europe, in a statement from the show.

    Analysts expect that close to 1 billion mobile phones will be in use by the year 2003. By 2002, market research firms predict that between 80 million and 100 million of these devices will be connected to the Internet in some way. Reflecting this industry shift, the CeBit trade show has been the source of announcements from a wide range of companies, including Palm, Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Symbian, trumpeting their latest wireless plays.

    "The European sector, because of their common GSM footprint over the geography of Europe, gets to see wireless software and Internet access promoted and distributed to a much larger population," said Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights. "You're just going to see an awful lot more of it over time--we're just seeing a flood already."

    Microsoft has scrambled to sign partnerships with carriers and handset manufacturers, but its Windows CE operating system, although a scaled down version of desktop Windows, proved too large to fit on cell phones.

    Mobile Explorer is a component-based software suite, which means cell phone manufacturers can pick and choose which applications they want. This means that manufacturers are no longer required to use Windows CE but can still use Microsoft micro-browser software or server applications. Other companies, including Phone.com and Palm Computer, have developed their own software to run Internet-enabled cell phones.

    "Microsoft is focused on delivering powerful, flexible software like Microsoft Mobile Explorer to help ensure our customers have easy access to their information any time, anywhere, and from any device," said Amy Mokady, business development manager of the mobile devices division at Microsoft, in a statement from the show in Germany.

    Sony's phone includes an Advanced Jog Dial, and new Text Input Technology, designed to make Internet browsing palatable on a small cell phone. The phone can view HTML Web pages, as well as Internet content designed using protocols like WAP which repurpose Internet content for the smaller displays.