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Motorola strokes Symbian after Palm stake purchase

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Motorola has become the latest of the Symbian founder members to play footsie with the opposition, in this case with the purchase of a minority stake in Palm, and a commitment to license Palm's OS for use in future handheld and wireless products. But at the same time Motorola issued a statement reiterating its full commitment to Symbian, so whereas last week's Ericsson-Microsoft deal hit Psion's share price hard initially, this time around they actually rose. All of the founder members of Symbian bar Psion have now conducted some business with what you might call the enemy. Nokia is working with Palm with a view to putting the Palm UI on top of Symbian, Ericsson intends to ship Microsoft's microbrowser with some of its handsets and to co-develop systems allowing users to access MS Exchange and other BackOffice apps. Motorola itself only joined Symbian at the last minute, and has its own chip lines to consider - Palm runs on Motorola silicon, whereas Symbian runs on ARM. Motorola has however muffled the blow by promising Symbian-based products over the next couple of years, and intriguingly, has also confessed to having been in talks with Microsoft on the subject of wireless. From Symbian's point of view, none of this need be viewed as particularly threatening. In fact, so long as the company plays its cards right the various moves its shareholders are making are likely to help it get established, rather than to block it. The Nokia-Palm alliance, for example, is about making the operating systems work together (or you could even say it's a handy route for Palm onto a 32-bit ARM platform), rather than setting them against one another. The Ericsson-Microsoft deal meanwhile doesn't give Microsoft CE an obvious or automatic route into Ericsson, and by holding out the possibility of shipping Microsoft's browser on its own Symbian EPOC devices, Ericsson might well be seen as laying the ground for Microsoft-Symbian co-operation, as opposed to the all-out war predicted earlier. Motorola however remains a wild-card until such time as it actually puts some flesh on its Palm-Symbian-Microsoft plans. Motorola and Microsoft are already co-shareholders in Nextel, one of Redmond's less smart investment decisions of 1999, but that, and the associated Motorola iDEN technology Nextel uses, are just as likely to turn out to be things the pair would like to get away from rather than a blueprint for future co-operation. Still, there's a Microsoft BackOffice wireless strategy in there, and Motorola could well end up with some kind of Ericsson-style deal with Microsoft. ®

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