Symbian chief blasts Microsoft

Wireless era will force Microsoft to come around to an open standards world, Symbian predicts

Microsoft's efforts to take over the personal organiser and smartphone markets with its proprietary technology are fundamentally flawed, according to Symbian chief executive Colly Myers, who predicts the US software giant will be forced to move to open standards.

Microsoft currently controls development for its Pocket PC and Stinger platforms more tightly than companies such as Symbian and Palm Computing. Microsoft's ambitions have also led to some incompatibilities, such as the inability of the Microsoft Pocket PC-powered iPaq organiser to exchange infra-red data with Palm devices.

Until recently Microsoft's Exchange servers were also incompatible with Palm, even though Palm controls the lion's share of the PDA (personal digital assistant) market.

Microsoft also takes the line that its dominant PC office software, including Outlook email and organiser software, Word word processor and Excel spreadsheet manager, is better integrated with its own smartphone and PDA devices than those of its competitors.

But Microsoft will eventually have to come around to open standards that work as well with any device, Myers says. "[Microsoft] can remain proprietary if they wish, but customers are going to want to access their data from [competitors'] products," Myers told ZDNet UK at the GSM World Congress this week in Cannes, France. "It's the customer that really has the power. It's their data, not Microsoft's."

Microsoft continues to encourage an all-Microsoft vision of the wireless data future, with Microsoft-powered phones running Pocket Outlook software linking to Exchange servers. "The best experience is going to come with Microsoft back-end software, because then we can control every link in the chain," Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for Microsoft's mobile Devices Division said.

Symbian's Myers also questions the idea that Microsoft's expertise with handling data on PCs will naturally translate to a wireless environment. "Going forward, connectivity to the network is the key asset," he said. "The PC is just one of the things that connects... your data is going to end up on the network."

He pointed out that the back-end infrastructure for networks is not a Windows-dominated environment -- for the time being, at least.

Microsoft criticised the early Symbian products -- Ericsson's R380 smartphone and Nokia's 9210 Communicator -- which are arriving this spring. Whatever their value as PDAs, the handsets fall short as mobile phones, Suwanjindar said.

He said Nokia's Communicator is too heavy, while Ericsson's is too difficult to use one-handed. "[The R380] faces some challenges in terms of being a great phone," he said.

Microsoft's Stinger is designed primarily as a phone handset with added PDA features such as email, organiser and contact database. It lacks some Pocket PC features, such as a stylus or a touch screen.

Ericsson representatives pointed out, however, that most R380 features can be accessed without flipping the phone open or using the stylus. And Ericsson's handset has one major benefit over Stinger: it has been available since last autumn. Stinger won't hit the market until later in the year.

Stinger also faces competition from VisorPhone, a mobile phone attachment for Handspring's Visor PDA, which has been on sale in the US since December. A colour Visor Prism with the phone attachment has a similar form factor to Stinger, though without a built-in numeric keypad.

Handspring announced Wednesday that VisorPhone will ship in Europe by this summer.

David coursey got a sneak peek of the two new Microsoft devices, code-named Stinger and Stirling in a recent visit to Redmond, although the phones are being unveiled for the first time this week in France. Coursey thinks Stinger looks good, Stirling isn't much, and traditional PDAs (and the Palm OS) are still tough competitors. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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