Microsoft and Symbian forge alliance

Users of Symbian-powered smart phones will soon be able to connect to their Outlook inboxes on the go

Arch mobile OS rivals Symbian and Microsoft have today announced they've signed a licensing deal.

Smartphone market leader Symbian has licensed Microsoft's Exchange Server ActiveSync protocol and will be developing a plug-in that will enable users of Symbian-based phones to access the software giant's email applications.

Symbian, which saw 14 million of its phones shipped last year, did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Simon Garth, vice-president of marketing at Symbian, said the decision to license the Redmond behemoth's technology was made to complete the jigsaw of email connectivity — Symbian already supports a number of mobile email protocols including the OMA and RIM's Blackberry Connect — and allow Symbian phone owners to connect to the mobile email they want.

"The range of enterprise email is really vast... what we're trying to do is complete the picture," he said.

Garth described the move as a "fortuitous happening" that benefited both software companies and the "logical thing to do" for Symbian.

With Microsoft now looking like Symbian's closest rival in the smartphone space — the pair have over 90 percent of the market sewn up between them, according to Gartner — a union between the two has raised some eyebrows.

"The part of Microsoft that we've been working with was extremely keen to do the deal because Symbian offers the volume route to market," he said. "The relationship's been good."

Garth would not be drawn, however, on whether the union would get stronger still with Symbian licensing more of Microsoft's products. "Who's to say?", he asked.

Analysts, however, were unconvinced the move will cement Symbian's entry point into the business email market.

Tony Cripps, analyst at Ovum, said in a research note: "[It's] a good start for providing an enterprise base for the wide family of Symbian-based mobile devices but nevertheless a limited one. Simply licensing Exchange Server ActiveSync will not suddenly turn enterprises onto Symbian, which continues to fly under the technology radar of most CIOs, although some may have crept in by the back door as part of a business handset upgrade programme or as personal phones. For most IT buyers and business people, BlackBerry remains today's de facto means of accessing email on the move".