Microsoft's Mobile Maneuvers

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has announced the first fruits of its wireless enterprise partnership (see AT&T, Microsoft Hit the Road) with AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE), a suite of software aimed at "mobile workers" (natch).

The unveiling was part of a spurt of activity on the mobile front from Microsoft as it kicked off its MEC 2002 conference in Anaheim, Calif.

The partnership between Microsoft and AT&T –- which will see the pair offer a combination of Pocket PC-based devices and wireless access services to corporations -- is the most immediately important news snippet. A spokesperson for Microsoft says that massive hospitality firm Carlson Companies Inc. is in the early stages of deploying applications.

AT&T will also be introducing a Pocket PC wireless device, the Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc. SX56. AT&T has said it will start offering them early next year.

Microsoft may be getting its mobile offerings in gear now, but the really big push will start in earnest when the company brings the next version of its Exchange groupware to the table. This software -- codenamed “Titanium” -- will incorporate the wireless functionality that was previously part of its separate Mobile Information Server (MIS), such as behind-the-firewall access to corporate email.

The Microsoft spokesperson says the new Exchange server is expected to start shipping in the middle of next year.

By incorporating wireless capabilities directly into Exchange, Redmond is hoping to encourage its massive installed base of corporate email users to dip their toes into the wireless waters.

Analysts figure the sheer number of users that already have Exchange may -- in the long run -- give Microsoft a leg-up over wireless email specialists like Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM). The thinking is that cash-strapped IT departments may decide not to invest in separate wireless email packages if they can get similar functionality from an all-in-one offering.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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