Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/13/microsoft_ie7_verizon/

MS dreams big as IE 6 for Windows Mobile nears

Steve, don't do it!

By Gavin Clarke

Posted in Mobile, 13th November 2008 01:18 GMT

Microsoft is prepping developers for the latest version of Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile, while trying to lock America's biggest wireless carrier into an internet search deal.

The company has released emulators for Internet Explorer 6, even though it's preparing to release version 8 for PCs. Despite the version lag, Microsoft claimed IE 6 would provide a "high-quality browsing experience on your device that more closely resembles a desktop browsing experience."

No mention was made of support for Silverlight, its browser-based media plug in, for mobile. Microsoft is pushing for first-quarter of 2009 for preview code of Silverlight for mobile.

The Reg understands a lot of work's going on behind the scenes to fit Silverlight to mobile while delivering a player not too dissimilar in features to the desktop version.

Features in IE 7 include enhanced AJAX and script support with backing for Jscript 5.7 form the forthcoming IE 8, updated media capabilities with Adobe Flash Lite 3.1, what the company's calling "multiple zoom levels" and touch and gesture support. IE 7's availability has been promised "soon".

The IE 7 bits came as Microsoft was reported to be close signing a deal it hoped would increase its share of the internet search and ads-revenue market.

Microsoft is reported to be in talks with US wireless giant Verizon Wireless on a $1bn deal that would see Microsoft's Live Search become the default search service for the wireless carrier's cell phones. Google is also understood to be in the running.

Under the deal, Microsoft would share revenue with Verizon from ads shown in response to cell phone web searches. Verizon will get a guaranteed payment of $550 million to $650 million over five years, an amount thought to be twice Google's offer.

Can you hear me now?

A Verizon Wireless spokesman refused to comment, saying sniffily: "We're not going to negotiate important business relationships in the media."

A deal would - on paper at least - provide a massive opportunity for Microsoft's struggling search business in a growth market. Microsoft's search is a distant third-placed player behind leader Google and number-two Yahoo! in search market share.

So far, though, Microsoft has not fared well on mobile search. An existing deal with Sprint Nextel, with 54 million customers, has clearly failed to increase Microsoft's search market share.

Admittedly, Sprint has declining market share and is the least popular of all the US carriers in terms of customer satisfaction - a challenging feat to achieve in a market where "fewest dropped calls" is considered something to shout about. Microsoft clearly felt it needed to trade up: Verizon has 65.7m customers and 43 per cent customer satisfaction.

Verizon does not equal success, though. As 24/7 Wall St pointed out, even a child can easily reset the default search function on a phone browser. That would render any such deal is a complete waste of time and money for Microsoft.

Such deals comes from the same school of thought that subscribes to the theory if you sign up prestigious partners, you get the users. It lead to Microsoft's deals in 2007 and 2008 with Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard to make its Live Search the default toolbar on certain brands of PC.

This is not the 1990s and Microsoft is not the only browser in town, though. Titanic deals do not work in an era when you've got choice.

Consumers are not fooled by such clutterware on their PC, as evidenced by the fact deals with Lenovo and HP have failed to move Microsoft's search market share. The same will be true of mobile, where there's even less space and processing power for clutterware and in a world where search as a concept is synonymous with Google.

Another hurdle? The fact, Windows - which IE is tied to - is a long long way behind the competition in the mobile market. Microsoft's Windows mobile phones had 13.6 per cent market share in the third quarter, compared to 15 per cent for RIM, 17.3 per cent for Apple and 46.6 per cent for Symbian/Nokia according to Canalys.

Misplaced Silverilght faith

Microsoft watchers out there might point to Silverlight for mobile as Microsoft's bridge into non-Windows platforms, bringing content to Symbian for example - and Nokia does have a deal with Microsoft on the S60. But too little is known about which other platforms or mobile browsers Silverlight will eventually support to really support this view.

Will we see Silverlight for RIM? Or Silverlight for the iPhone - Sun Microsystems and Adobe Systems both know what a roadblock Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs can be on the iPone.

Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer had a narrow escape this year on the Yahoo! acquisition. CEO Jarry Yang turned down Microsoft's offer of $33 a share just before the stock market tanked leaving Yahoo! at its current price of $11 a share. Had Steve got way, he'd now be the proud owner of a vastly over priced search, ads and email business.

If SteveO is determined to destroy his reputation, then blowing millions of dollars on an epic mobile search deal with Verizon that doesn't actually deliver users could be the way to do it. ®