MS bids for wireless generation with MSN Mobile

Trust us, even if it's free it's a plot. Especially if it's free...

Microsoft's launch yesterday of MSN Mobile was to some extent an exercise in reinventing wheels that have started to roll elsewhere, but it was also a classic Microsoft bid to grab itself another big pile of users. Say you're in the US, and you've got a pager or a cellular phone - how would you like to be able to get weather reports, stock quotes, date reminders and lottery info sent to you for free? Course you would, so fill in the form, and you're on the Microsoft database ready and waiting for the next big push. Actually we're not sure about the date reminder and lottery being exactly compelling information, but you can get them for free, so what the hell. Microsoft quite probably expects Hotmail-style volumes of users to show up for this service, and while it may have to add a little bit more in the way of free content to pull the numbers in, no doubt it's prepared to do that. At the moment the real content is being offered via the premium account, which you have to pay $9.95 a month for. That gets you an unlimited number of stock quotes (the free version is limited to ten), volume info, volume alerts and volume triggers. For your money you also get news from "respected sites" (no, not us folks) such as CNet and The Los Angeles Times, plus sports and bizarrely, horoscopes direct from the LA Times. This is of course all doable with existing technology, and there are plenty of other outfits doing it already, whatever Microsoft says. But the key point here is that it's Microsoft doing it, and Microsoft has the ability to leverage users from its other operations. It's bought wireless information outfit OmniBrowse to handle the delivery side so, good people, if any of you happen to know what servers OmniBrowse uses and they're not MS ones, just let us know. The real kicker is how the new MSN Mobile service will look when "fully developed." Says Microsoft, "MSN Mobile will include the most popular MSN services, such as email, address books and calendar features from the MSN Hotmail&trade, Web-based email service, news, sports and weather from MSNBC, stock updates from the MSN MoneyCentral&trade, personal finance online service, and other Web-based content such as door-to-door driving directions." Spot the leverage in that little lot - it's basically bringing a lot of the content stuff Microsoft has been assembling into one package, and taking it onto the road. Right now it's the sort of service that can be accessed by any phone that can receive text messages, but as "a component of the end-to-end wireless solution from Microsoft" it will be "widely accessible by devices employing microbrowser technology, such as Pocket Microsoft Internet Explorer." That of course helps leverage Windows CE into the mobile phone market, as does the interesting stuff above about "address books and calendar features." At the moment the service seems to be US-only, which is scarcely surprising, as Microsoft would need partners to take it to other countries, but that's not to say it isn't going to get them. Interestingly enough, although the service providers in Europe are all thinking in terms of expanded content delivery, they tend to think of it as something that can win them more revenue. But if Microsoft winds up trying to carve out market share by giving content away (we think it will), this could cause them considerable angst. Netscape, anyone? ® Gratuitous swipe We can't help noticing that if you try to access one of the few dial-up MSN systems left standing, msn.co.uk, with Navigator it makes a desperate bid to ship you to msn.co.uk/migrate.asp instead, then falls over. That's all...

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