Is Microsoft outsmarting Symbian with mobile security?

Microsoft's operating system for 'smart phones', the Windows Mobile Phone Edition, is more secure and more efficient than the Symbian platform, which could help the Redmond giant take control of the enterprise smart phone market.

Microsoft's operating system for 'smart phones', the Windows Mobile Phone Edition, is more secure and more efficient than the Symbian platform, which could help the Redmond giant take control of the enterprise smart phone market.

Roman Korolik, managing director of SecureGSM, a company that last week launched an encryption tool for Windows Mobile-based devices, said he would like to have created a similar application for Symbian-based devices but it was not possible because that platform was not as efficient as Microsoft's.

"We need efficiency and the Symbian platform is not really designed for that. Windows [Mobile] is quite a bit more efficient and has fewer overheads in those areas. Also, with memory management there are much better options in Windows Mobile to manage and isolate application memory," said Korolik.

He said while developing the SecureGSM application, the company tested out numerous Symbian-based devices and found the software was not as efficient at encryption-related tasks. In addition, Windows-based devices are generally fitted with more powerful processors, making encryption easier.

"Processor speeds of Symbian devices are quite low but our tests have shown that the Windows platform performs better on a like processor. On a 200MHz processor, core functions we need for real time audio performed better on the Windows platform then they did on Symbian.

Warren Chaisatien, research manager for wireless and mobility at IDC Australia, agreed Microsoft had improved the security of its mobile platform and said the company could combine its strengths to offer enterprises compelling server, desktop and mobile solutions.

"In the past 12 months Microsoft Windows Mobile has done a great job. It was last in the game compared to Symbian and the old-timer, Palm. The other platforms are improving on security but I think Microsoft has the best foothold in this space because of the legacy PCs and servers in the corporate environment," said Chaisatien.

According to Chaisatien, enterprises say that security is one of their three biggest concerns when using mobile devices. Reducing complexity is another big driver and of course so is cost.

"We have done continuous studies in Australia asking decision makers on a regular basis. Security is one of the top three inhibitors holding corporate Australia back from mobilising its businesses," said Chaisatien, who said the diversity of wireless standards and cost are also important factors.

However, Robin Simpson, research director, Gartner Asia Pacific, said that even if Microsoft makes significant gains in the enterprise market, it doesn't mean it will affect the smart phone market as a whole.

"The enterprise market is only a small share of the smart phone market. All the different platforms have their weaknesses. Windows security is not enough to make a difference to the market share of Microsoft over Symbian," said Simpson.

He added that while applications such as SecureGSM are useful, they will not decide which company wins the smart phone platform wars.

"It is a small step in the right direction but not big enough to affect the market share. The issues are more to do with the physical security of the mobile device rather than the wireless security," said Simpson.