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Microsoft Mobilizes Again

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is unveiling the latest version of its Windows Mobile operating system this morning ahead of the 3GSM show in Barcelona. The Windows Mobile 6.0 code is an evolutionary step from the software giant's last big release, with major changes to wireless email capabilities and security, while largely maintaining the look and feel of its current user interface.

Microsoft will make the software available to its smartphone and device partners on Monday. Suzan DelBene, vice president for the company's mobile device marketing, says that Windows is already "the fastest growing mobile operating system" with over 140 different phones now using the code.

The latest cut of the Windows code makes the mobile email client look more like its desktop equivalent; further integrates the software with Microsoft's enterprise back-end software; adds a number of security features; and links it to Redmond's new Vista OS. "We talked to IT and business folks, consumers, and our carrier partners for feedback," DelBene says.

Here are some of the key updates:

Email
The crucial upgrade is allowing users to view and read emails in standard HTML format as one would in a normal Outlook mail client. The new software also lets mobile users connect to the Microsoft Exchange mail server and search for an email even if it is not actually stored on the device itself.

Microsoft's focus on email is unsurprising given its rivalry with Canadian mobile vendor, BlackBerry , which still holds the top spot in the mobile email market. Other major vendors such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) are also ramping up their efforts in this area.

Security
Security is another very important issue with devices that can easily be lost or stolen outside the office or home. "One of the big requests we had was to encrypt storage cards on the device," notes DelBene. The firm has also added the ability for a user to perform a "local wipe" of a gadget's memory without having to try to contact a network administrator if a device is lost in the wee hours.

Other updates include more policy enforcement capabilities and extended pin codes to offer better data security. "It's part of us building a foundation to respond to these kinds of attacks proactively," says DelBene, noting that many of these security threats are currently a rare occurrence in the real world.

Sight and Sync
Microsoft has also added several new features to the operating system, such as including recent call history in the contacts page. This is so that the user doesn't have to flip between different screens for call details.

Unsurprisingly, the firm has also linked its mobile OS more closely with its new desktop system, Vista. Mobile 6 allows consumers to more closely sync their device with their desktop, moving pictures and other content between their computer and gadget.

Analysts see Windows 6 as a step rather than a jump beyond earlier mobile code. "The... story largely revolves around integration with other new Microsoft software -- Exchange 2007, Office 2007, and Vista, plus it offers improved security," says Gartner Inc. analyst Todd Kort.

"There are not many big differences that the average end user is going to immediately notice," Kort adds. "The big changes will come in late 2008 with the next version of Windows Mobile." — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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