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MS licenses sync to former arch-rival Symbian

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Symbian has licensed Microsoft's Exchange Server 2003 ActiveSync protocol and will in turn develop a plug-in for its phone manufacturers who license its operating system. The plug-in will be optional, but it will allow the manufacturers to build phones that support remote synchronization with Exchange with no extra license fees to Symbian. Of course, the manufacturers still need a development agreement with Microsoft, and IT shops who buy the phones still need a client access license or CAL for each unit they buy.

It's foolish to say that Microsoft has made peace with Symbian, but the name that Redmond once dare not utter is no longer Enemy No.1. That dubious privilege, it seems, goes to our friends in Waterloo, Canada.

Microsoft's communication protocols are simple internet standards obfuscated in complex RPC calls - Microsoft calls this its intellectual property crown jewels. So reverse engineering the protocols has traditionally been difficult for third parties. (Novell's Exchange Connector is one example of a workaround, screen scraping the results of Exchange's webmail.) Redmond's goal has been to sell more CALs and ensure the clients run a Windows OS - a double win.

But as a consequence of the antitrust settlements Microsoft has been obliged to at least pretend to take interoperability seriously, and the EU is unexpectedly determined to ensure that Microsoft doesn't see licensing as yet another revenue opportunity.

So the deal, which follows similar agreements with Symbian's largest licensee and shareholder Nokia, and PalmOne, removes one of the unique selling points for Windows-based phones.

Until recently, Microsoft could argue that its Windows Mobiles were the only safe option for Exchange customers. So if it's selling CALs, it shouldn't mind seeing those two revenue streams shrink to one, if the one is larger than before, right?

Wrong. In typically paranoid fashion, Microsoft sees its CAL revenue under threat, and for once, with some justification. Mail and calendaring isn't exactly rocket science in 2005

Microsoft's primary concern is really to stop the growth of the highly addictive "Crackberry". RIM servers currently sit alongside Exchange servers in the data center acting as a proxy. But Microsoft's fear is that its largest corporate users are becoming so reliant on the popular and expensive email sync service that they knock-out the Exchange server and keep using Blackberry Connect, with AN Other generic mail server underneath. This is something that Symbian is well aware of. Exchange can be used for much more than email and calendaring, and it's unlikely that customers can throw an Active Directory-based architecture overboard just like that.

While no one in the Windows Mobile camp will admit it, Microsoft is prepare to see its client division take a bath in the short term to achieve what seems to be its primary goal in wireless right now: Get RIM. ®

Related stories

MS, Nokia in Valentine's Day headline bid
RIM ships Blackberry Enterprise Server 4.0
Nokia aims to dominate mobile email
Mac OS X gets Blackberry sync support
PalmSource's sideways shuffle to Linux
Symbian updates OS, toolchain

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