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Microsoft's answer to MobileMe goes public

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My Phone, Microsoft's cloud repository of mobile data, has gone into public beta, offering an online backup of contacts, calendars and files, but is still suffering a few early glitches.

The service is intended to provide Microsoft-hosted storage, 200MB of it, to the legion of non-corporate Windows Mobile users that Microsoft is hoping to attract. Right now it works on Windows Mobile 6.0 or above, and performs well enough once one gets past the teething problems to be expected with a beta.

First we requested a download link, which never arrived, but manually downloading the client software wasn't particularly arduous. You use a LiveID identity to log on to the service, but once those details are entered everything works pretty well as long as you don't push it too hard.

We initially opted to include "storage cards" in our backup, and spent a while trying to work out what was going on before we realised the client had recognised a mounted network drive as a "storage card" and was trying to back up 70GB of server to Redmond - a process we were able to interrupt, but which demonstrates how difficult it is to provide this kind of service on a mutable platform like Windows Mobile.

Once you rein back to contacts, messages and calendar My Phone works well enough, though the Samsung Omnia on which we tested the service stores photographs and videos in its "storage" memory. My Phone is unable to back those up without also insisting on running through the networked drive, so we had to move some files around to test that functionality.

Once backed up you can access your synchronised data through a basic web-based interface; probably enough for a casual user, but it's not going to replace Outlook any time soon. In fact the service won't work at all if your Windows Mobile device is connected to an Exchange server, but then you probably wouldn't be wanting My Phone if that were the case.

This isn't accidental: Microsoft wants to see Windows Mobile outside the office and in the hands of ordinary people. On its current form My Phone will work well enough for those users, while Redmond continues to sell Outlook to the rest of us. ®

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