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Ballmer takes charge of MS Phone biz

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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Not all Microsoft reshuffles merit a press release, but the latest game of musical chairs at Redmond has one very newsworthy result. Steve Ballmer has taken personal charge of Microsoft's troubled phone and handheld efforts. The chief executive klaxon will now look after the Microsoft wireless and mobile computing division, which previously reported to Bob Muglia.

Taking personal charge means a couple of things: firstly that Microsoft recognizes the importance of wireless. Well, that's obvious enough, but if that's all there was to it then Ballmer would have spun the division into its own veep-dom, much like Brian Valentine's Windows division. The more important message is that he can't trust the job to his existing subordinates, and wants to thump heads.

And the two heads anxiously looking for protective wrapping belong to Ben Waldman and Juha Christensen. A Microsoft spokesman confirmed today that both Veeps keep their existing job titles, but simply report directly to Ballmer.

The PDA portion of this division has been going great guns, particularly in the US, with PocketPCs eating into Palm's market share. But the phone side, which will dwarf PDAs in terms of volume, has struggled to make inroads with the major handset manufacturers. None of the major players, Nokia, Ericsson/Sony or Motorola, has licensed the Smartphone platform Stinger. And The Beast has even seen key wireless alliances fade, most notably its joint venture with Ericsson.

And Ballmer has in the past month seen a powerful and co-ordinated challange emerge from Nokia to license its middleware and key applications under the banner OMA, or Open Mobile Architecture. There's little question that Nokia is firmly in the driving seat right now. And for all the heat about .NET, wireless developers are almost exclusively using Java, a fact recognised by Microsoft licensee Sendo, which has sourced its own MIDP-compatible VM for its Stinger smartphone.

In the summer, we recommended that Microsoft spin-off its troubled smartphone efforts into a semi-independent division, much in the way that the Xbox games console was given operational autonomy. Ballmer will be able to decide for himself soon enough whether such a drastic step is required.

We only hope Steve doesn't take personal charge of testing the handsets, as most users are less defeaning than Ballmer and he could play havoc with the speaker calibration.

As the other highlight of the reshuffle, Muglia sees his .NET Services job go to David Cole, formerly senior VP of the services platform division, and Muglia gets SQL Server as a consolation prize.

Don't look to the official leadership list on the Microsoft website; at press time today it still lists Bill Neukom as Legal Affairs VP. ®

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