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Microsoft turns the drill on Bluetooth

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Give The Beast some credit: it's never one to let an industry standards agreement pass by without taking the opportunity to kick somebody's shins. As the St Francis of Redmond almost said: where there is harmony, let us sow discord.

Right on cue, Tuesday's formal rubber stamping of the wireless networking standard 802.11b was accompanied by a grenade in the direction of Bluetooth, the wireless cable replacement standard. The two overlap, slightly, but since both involve the word "wireless", there's a huge opportunity for mischief makers. Even the utterly infallible press wires see the two as engaged in mortal combat, and Microsoft's appropriately named Jawad Khaki used the occasion to all but deliver Bluetooth's last rites.

"Microsoft has worked very hard in being ready for when Bluetooth matures. But we're disappointed that the progress has not been as fast as the industry said it would," Khaki told Reuters.

Indeed progress has been slow, as even Bluetooth's supporters acknowledge, but as the industry's biggest software company Microsoft is hardly a disinterested participant . It was late, very late to join the Bluetooth standards process. And when it did, it participated with the enthusiasm of a sullen scolded child. It failed to support Bluetooth in the forthcoming Whistler XP, and made sure everyone knew about it. Even Palm, another relative late comer to Bluetooth, has made a decent fist of its Bluetooth support despite having to overcome huge technical obstacles. Palm supports Bluetooth (one direction at a time only) in Palm OS 4.0.

But Microsoft, despite its vastly superior resources, won't. Now it's sincerely telling us that Bluetooth is withering on the vine, because of er… lack of industry support. Fancy that!

Somewhere in this sorry saga you have to ask yourself why Microsoft should be so reluctant to support interoperability with small devices? After all, it's awfully keen on the battery-sapping 802.11, which is used in tablet-sized appliances and PCs.

Isn't getting PCs to talk to phones and PDAs a good thing, you might ask?

Well, not if the phones and PDAs are owned by a rival platform. Palm owns 75 per cent of the PDA business, and the smartphone platform is going to be proprietary phone OSes running Java, or Symbian, or both.

Both PDAs and smartphones are personal devices that offer a natural home for your address book. There's no more natural place for you personal phonebook to reside. Microsoft prefers users to think of Outlook as this database, or Excel spreadsheets (Excel is in fact the world's most popular er, database). But once users start thinking of their personal gadget as the centre of their data universe, Outlook begins to look very clunky indeed, and more of an obstacle than an enabler. Microsoft alone views phones as an Outlook access device, which must make working for the Stinger team singularly frustrating, we guess. Every other PDA and phone platform sees the handheld as the personal data repository.

But so long as Microsoft can tarnish interoperability efforts between devices and PDAs, then Outlook and PC-hosted data live to fight another day. A pattern is emerging here: out of the box Windows infra red stack was reliably unreliably, and Microsoft dropped support as soon as it respectably could with Windows 2000. Bluetooth is much more potent, and this time Microsoft is taking the fight deadly seriously. ®

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