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Microsoft to offer free microbrowser as ‘stop Symbian’ campaign

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Having failed so far to get mobile phone companies to vote for CE in any significant numbers, Microsoft is now readying an alternative strategy - offer them a microbrowser free of charge for their handsets and devices. The W-Pack (Wireless Package Application) programme will include free microbrowser, source code, libraries and documentation. The plan is undoubtedly aimed at Symbian, the joint venture operation owned by Psion, Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola. Symbian is mounting a direct challenge to Microsoft in the smartphone/communicator arena, using Psion's EPOC32 software as a lean basis for their future devices, and trimming licence fees down to $5-10 a unit. Microsoft clearly can't match this with CE, without destroying its licence revenues from CE machines aimed at more computer-like functions. But it can match or better it by 'liberating' strategies from other companies and giving the software away for free. This one, for example, appears to involve an ultra-slim browser running on top of an embedded OS, and although Microsoft would no doubt like the embedded OS to be a Microsoft one, this is by no means essential. And the microbrowser on top of an embedded OS sounds rather like what you'd hear from Sun. Giving it away meanwhile sounds like a Microsoft implementation of the Open Source Software approach. Microsoft says that the WPA will be a completely open standard which isn't tied to CE, and though it will work with (and possibly be optimised for) CE, financial considerations will keep this combination out of volume mobile phone markets. Microsoft may however have left its counter-strike too late. Psion's decision to let the cellular big three buy stakes in a joint venture seems shrewd with hindsight, because they're now committed, and a lot less likely to defect to the Microsoft camp (Motorola has rumouredly already turned down an approach). So Microsoft is going to have to look at tier two global companies, and at US ones. Siemens is already theoretically committed to CE, so is a possibility, and Alcatel and AT&T might be available. The Koreans, as always, are most certainly available. But there's still a lot of catching up to do. ®

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