Gates aims for wireless blue yonder

Microsoft Corp. plans to fuse Microsoft software and services into the phones and handheld units of the wireless world, company chair Bill Gates told the Wireless 2000 conference in his keynote.

That strategy includes making the newly-released Windows 2000 more wireless-friendly, and positioning a version of MSN as a central, wireless portal, Gates said. Microsoft unveiled a wireless version of its MSN portal called MSN Mobile 2.0 at the recent Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association conference.

“We need to move beyond voice to voice and data,” Gates said. “Microsoft can do this by bringing all the pieces together. And once we do, we are really going to surprise people.”

Microsoft is crafting e-mail management software, tentatively named Priorities, that works with its Outlook program to send only the most important e-mail to your mobile unit. Gates demonstrated a prototype of the program, designed for mobile professionals.

As the name implies, the program prioritizes your e-mail and can notify you of important e-mail through your mobile phone or pager. This way, you don’t have to manage a blizzard of e-mail in your mobile device.

The Outlook option will be available with Platinum Exchange Server messaging software for businesses, which is not yet shipping. Microsoft also showed a wireless instant messaging feature that is scheduled to be available with the Platinum version of Exchange Server.

Microsoft’s wireless push takes flight as its large stable of MSN Web services, such as Hotmail and Expedia, become available on wireless phones and handheld devices.

Gates featured MSN Mobile 2.0, scheduled to be available in April, in his keynote. The software improves on an earlier version that only delivered static on-line information to mobile phones. In contrast, MSN Mobile 2.0 offers real-time, on-demand information such as flight schedules, weather conditions and sports scores.

Users of the upcoming MSN Mobile for the first time will be given two-way functionality allowing them to send and receive information from Internet-enabled phones and handheld computers and make purchases.

MSN Mobile 2.0 will be initially available to Nextel Communications and AirTouch Cellular customers.

During his demonstration, Gates showed how people who book flights using the Expedia on-line travel service will automatically receive updated flight and weather information on cellular phones enabled with the wireless applications protocol. WAP is a technical standard for presenting Internet data on mobile devices that allows companies to serve up text directly to a phone’s electronic display.