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MS recruits Vodafone for wireless mail partnership

With that as well as Sun and IBM, it gives Vodafone pretty much a complete set...

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Six months on from not quite pulling off a major deal with Vodafone-Airtouch after all, Microsoft has clawed back at least some of the ground with the announcement of a joint trial of "corporate mobile intranet services" that will bring "Outlook functionality to wireless mobile devices." This is a somewhat more modest project than the more consumer-focussed one Bill's spinmeisters were salivating over in February, and it superficially more than a little with an announcement Vodafone made in January with arch-rivals IBM, Sun and Psion.

From the wording of today's release, the Vodafone-Microsoft deal would appear to be a cunning plan for Microsoft to leverage its way further into mobile markets courtesy of the ubiquity of Outlook. But a quick reality check with UK CE product manager Dilip Mistry reveals that on the contrary, Microsoft is coming over all agnostic on this one. The trials will simply require "any WAP 1.2-based device and a microbrowser" - not Mobile Explorer, any microbrowser "so long as it's standards-based."

So the action for Microsoft is at the server end, right? Well, only sort of. According to Mistry the initial trials will use Exchange server, but as the objective is to offer corporate services to the generality of corporates, the live service is intended to cater for Notes and other rivals as well. Bracing stuff, no? You sure you work for Microsoft, Dilip?

Clearly the liberal approach was too much for whoever knocked up the press release, as apparently by "bring Microsoft Outlook functionality" we simply mean functionality of the level of Outlook, rather than Outlook itself. Actually, it's about browser-based access to email, contacts, diary and so on, and we can assume that Microsoft - probably rightly - thinks Outlook is strong enough to win on its own merits here.

The Microsoft deal (which follows on trials of similar systems in conjunction with rival BT Cellnet) also has a novel twist to it, in that it needn't be connected with the earlier Vodafone announcement with the Usual Suspects, and the demarcation lines, unusually, put Microsoft on the corporate turf and Sun and IBM on the consumer.

They, plus Psion and Ericsson, are involved in the construction of the Vizzavi portal Vodafone is building with Vivendi, but that's a consumer system for all users, while the Microsoft deal is specifically targetted at corporates. Commercial deployment is aimed at Spring next year. ®

Related stories:
Vodafone recruits IBM, Sun, Psion for mobile Internet
Leaked MS email reveals deal plans with BT, AT&T, Airtouch

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