In the garden of the wireless Net, Microsoft and Palm are shooting off new tendrils from their handheld device businesses - each hoping to blossom into the dominant provider of mobile Internet technologies.
Palm by the end of the year intends to launch a personal mobile portal that will be accessible through standard wireless and Web protocols, said Mark Bercow, Palm's vice president of strategic alliances and platform development. The portal, optimized for Palm Operating System devices, is being built around AnyDay.com, an online calendar site Palm acquired in May, and will provide users time- and location-based information.
At the same time, Palm has focused on licensing its Palm OS to other hardware vendors. Last week, Sony Electronics, the company's most significant partner on this front, unveiled the Cli‚ handheld organizer based on Palm's OS.
But except for a bundled video player application and an expandable memory slot, the $399 Sony Cli‚ is almost indistinguishable from the Palm V. It's a situation that underscores the uneasy paradox built into Palm's business model: Sony now is both Palm's biggest partner and potentially its most formidable competitor for handhelds.
Still, analysts said Palm has no choice but to risk cannibalizing its own hardware sales as it tries to seed Palm OS as the de facto platform for mobile computing, vying for market share with Microsoft's Pocket PC and Symbian's Epoc. For its part, Palm sees Sony as a strategic partner. Bercow said Sony will develop multimedia features that will be incorporated back into the Palm platform.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is branching into wireless server infrastructure to complement its client-side device initiatives. Microsoft recently created a server group within its Mobile Devices Division to drive Windows 2000 into wireless carriers' data centers. Microsoft's wireless access server, code-named Airstream, is based on Exchange 2000 and Windows 2000 and will provide applications for mobile devices, such as e-mail, unified messaging, content serving and instant messaging.
The new mobile strategy is typical of Microsoft: The value to carriers is supposedly in having Microsoft's technology on both ends of the connection in an integrated, single-vendor system. Along with its wireless server components, Microsoft is developing smart phone software, code-named Stinger, that can display full HTML pages shrunk to fit on small screens.
"We are trying to imply that there is added value in stringing together the Microsoft pieces," said Scott Gode, product manager at Microsoft's wireless server group.
Beta versions of Microsoft's wireless access server have been in trials this summer with various wireless carriers, including British Telecommunications and Sweden's Europolitan, executives said.
Analysts said the Microsoft-everywhere story will be unconvincing in the multifarious mobile universe. "If there were a world where everything was Microsoft, it could work," said Ken Dulaney, a mobile computing analyst at GartnerGroup. "But how aggressive can they be in supporting Palm?"