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Microsoft and Vodafone launch mobile Outlook app

It's the best thing since the PC, apparently

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Microsoft and Vodafone have launched new products that will enable you to pick up Outlook emails from your mobile phone. The plan is to extend it to any Web-enabled apps.

On Microsoft's part, it has produced Microsoft Mobile Software, run on the Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 server (MMIS); Vodafone has launched Vodafone OfficeLive. The set up requires a mobile operator to have some Microsoft kit in its exchange and then a company will have to licence the MS server, put in between their internal and external firewalls.

All this will basically enable someone to use a mobile device to gain access to their email, address book, calendar etc. The company will have to pay Vodafone a per-user per-month fee (£5 was the figure we finally managed to get out of the company) as well as a usage charge.

Vodafone reckons the increase in office productivity will see a 12-month return on investment. Some big corporates like the idea: so far, NTL, KPMG, ICL and HP have signed up, with more acronyms to follow.

Representatives of both Vodafone and Microsoft waxed lyrical about how well they have got on with each other. Perhaps this is true - it seems Vodafone has beem persuaded that non-proprietary is the way to go with mobiles. Hence the system will work with standards from W3C, IETF, WAP, 3GPP, MWIF, ETSI and the MD of Vodafone Multimedia Amit Pau also said it would include the new M-Services guidelines from the GSM Association.

Mind you, what other choice does Microsoft have? It can't exactly produce a new mobile infrastructure - although you can bet it thought about it. What we did get though was a Microsoft employee (a Swedish one, mind) admitting that the Beast of Redmond was slow in realising the Internet market and has been slow in picking up mobility as well. Its mobility arm has even been moved out of Redmond and dropped on the big mobile boys in Sweden (even though it's a "core component of the .NET vision"). We were even privileged enough to get this press conference half a day before the launch in Atlanta.

The OfficeLive service is being aimed squarely at the corporate market and a brief demo showed how people could communicate and access data where they may be. Get an email and you can get Vodafone to SMS the fact to your mobile. Then connect to Outlook in real time, have a look, reply, check the calendar, whatever.

Connecting... connecting... connecting

We were informed that the user interface was exactly the same as being at the desktop, but using our visual senses we detected a somewhat different story. It's basically Outlook on WAP. Useful though, and sales reps will love it.

The more interesting aspect is that any application that is Web-enabled should theoretically be accessible on a mobile or PDA. Good for gathering information but not all that practical in returning it - tapping out an email with the little pointy stick is enough to drive you mad. It might be a little better if people start using those mini-keyboards that mobile manufacturers are producing. It isn't super-fast at the moment either - five to six secs lag getting to each new page.

While the assembled tried to convince us this was "the biggest improvement in office productivity since desktop PCs", we aren't so excited. Systems like this have been available for some time - or has everyone forgotten the entire ASP hype machine of six months ago? It was also inevitable that this sort of thing would happen. The news is basically that Microsoft has teamed up with Vodafone and finally released it.

Also, while we're rewriting history, Microsoft promised it would do an Outlook WAP version by the end of last year with Ericsson. What happened to that? The companies both accepted that Ericsson has played a part in the process but were keen to point out it was their baby. Funny.

As for productivity, we can see how that will work. However, isn't there an equal risk that we are entering an even worse information-overload world? Not only will we get too many emails but we'll also have text messages for them as well. And people will expect you to get back even faster, making life even more disjointed as you do little tasks all day every day. Ah well, that's the future.

Press conference add-ons

What does it say about Vodafone and/or Microsoft if they are obsessed with the death of Timonthy McVeigh? During the demo, a techie sent a reply email using his PDA. Rather than torture the hacks assembled by slowly taping out a message, he went simply for "OK". When he hit the "k" however, the automated word producer offered "Oklahoma City". Hmmm. Answers on a postcard.

Also, when we asked why we'd be given a frisbee with flashing lights that spell out a word when it spins round, the PRs were dumbstruck. "I'd get back to you on that one," said one lovely lady, before the top man informed us: "I've no idea. It's just a stupid PR thing." We can't work out what the word is supposed to be. Is it "Vodafone", "Microsoft", "OfficeLive" or something else? By the time it starts flashing, the bloody thing hits the office wall.

Why do they call it a frisbee? Two IT hacks were kind enough to tell us. Stems from William Russell Frisbie's pie factory. The tin used for the cakes were flung around by students in the same way as the modern day Frisbee. Hence the name. ®

Related Story

MS/Ericsson mobile link-up launched
GSM Association launches new standard for next-gen mobiles

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