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Microsoft declares war on '(inaudible)' Sh… Symbian

Was Juha mumbling or the transcribers bumbling? The hate that dare not speak its name

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It's been reported more than once that Microsoft founder Bill Gates sees a certain private London-based company as Redmond's biggest threat. But we didn't realise it was that big.

So awesome and terrible in fact, that Microsoft can't even bring itself to mention it by name.

Take a look at a fascinating transcript of its own London press conference held earlier this month to publicise mobile wireless initiatives. It can be found on Microsoft's Web site.

London Calling

"Good morning. Can everybody hear me?" begins Kevin Dallas, Microsoft's director of marketing for the mobile products group. Er... well not quite everybody, Kevin, as the ostensibly verbatim transcript will reveal.

Things go well enough, in that phonetic-near-miss style fans of Ceefax or CNN subtitles will recognise. Nothing actually gets missed, only mis-spelled. SMS messaging is transcribed as SNF messaging, for example...

But as Microsoft's Ben Waldman takes the stage, the microphone starts to play very strange tricks. "We are also working with a number of partners in this industry with joint ventures," he says. He describes Wireless Knowledge, and continues: "We're doing a similar joint venture with (inaudible) in Japan called Mobi Magic," according to the transcript. Any guesses yet, dear readers?

Then, as Waldman introduces his next guest, the star turn, the microphone again goes curiously haywire.

"We looked for somebody who would have deep industry experience, and also a lot of experience working with different groups across multiple continents to create multiple solutions," blurbs Waldman. "I'd like to introduce that person to you today. I'd like to introduce our new Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Mobility, Juha Christensen, formerly Executive Vice President of (inaudible)."

Can you hear me at the back?
The strangely selective drop-outs continue as Christensen hits his stride: "A lot of you will know that I have been in (inaudible) a bit surprised about me actually moving on to this next opportunity," we learn from the transcript.

Actually, Christensen had been legally bound to be inaudible for several months. Ever since March in fact, when Microsoft poached him at great expense from Symbian (for it is they) to become the company's first ever externally-recruited executive vice president.

Christensen's contract specified that he couldn't work for a competitor for six months, and Microsoft's recruitment bill cranked up up another £300,000 after their appeal against enforcement was very rapidly bounced out of the High Court in May, with Juha placed on gardening leave until September 12, three weeks before this event.

Symbian, of course, is the company created with mobile handset manufacturers Nokia Ericsson and Motorola (Sony, Sanyo and Panasonic's brand owners Matsushita have since signed up) to provide the software for most of the phones we'll be using within the next few years. The alliance - and one Christensen was instrumental in creating - pointedly excluded Microsoft.

This was recognised by Gates himself in his subsequent anguished memos made public by the Department of Justice: "If they [Nokia] had come to us with Ericsson/Motorola we would have loved to do a Symbian type deal. I made it clear we were very disappointed and upset they didn't ever talk to us."

Well, Microsoft's mobile strategy has pretty much followed Gates' retaliation plan to the letter, as we now know. Gates then said that he'd try to work with the Symbian partners, work "hardcore" (his words) with the smaller manufacturers and "work with CDMA"... a risky, isolationist tactic that might see Microsoft take chunks of the US and Korean markets, but leave the rest of the world mooning back at Redmond. And it knows it.

However, the problem that this transcript so neatly illustrates is that Microsoft continues to underestimate its European audience. Supposing that we hadn't heard of Symbian, and wouldn't want to know, is one assumption.

But dangling the prospect of "data enabled cell phone being available in 2003 and 2004" before this London audience* when WAP is here now, and always-on GPRS will be here before the Christmas (not exactly, if you're a normal UK consumer - Ed) decorations come down, is quite another.

Register Bootnote Yes we were invited, but didn't show. We try to bring you real news, like this. But if you think we missed something, have a gander at the transcript and let us know, OK? ®

Related Link

Juha, we have a... mobile device (inaudible) problem... Microsoft's transcript

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Gates rails at 'proprietary Symbian', looks for the insanity defence
Symbian's Myers on Microsoft, antitrust and those memos
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