Microsoft gears up for wireless Web

Microsoft Corp. is ramping up its efforts to become a major player in the emerging world of the wireless Internet.

At a luncheon this month at its new Silicon Valley offices, company officials provided a glimpse of new Microsoft products under development aimed at end-users, service providers and corporations. The new software includes client-side products for smart phones and handheld computers as well as server software that can be used to build and deploy wireless services.

Products under development include AirStream, a software platform for carriers and corporations on which they can build and deploy wireless applications as well as manage a network of wireless devices, said Ben Waldman, Microsoft vice-president in charge of Pocket PC and wireless applications.

“Most importantly, it’s a platform on which others can build, providing tools that others can use to wirelessly enable existing applications and build new ones,” he said. Waldman declined to say when AirStream would be delivered.

Microsoft is also working on a project called Stinger which will provide handset manufacturers with the specifications for building Internet-enabled smart phones, in a similar way to how Pocket PC provided an outline for building PDAs (personal digital assistants).

The company showed a prototype Stinger device here that included a large color screen for displaying text and images, a Web browser and applications such as a mobile version of Microsoft Outlook, a calendar and a contacts list. The goal is to create a device that includes functions of a PDA but is still primarily a mobile phone, Waldman said. The mobile version of Outlook will enable users to synchronize the exchange of their personal data between mobile devices and servers, he added.

Microsoft has already announced that Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will use Stinger to create a smart phone which the South Korean company plans to launch next year. The Stinger prototype was shown at Microsoft’s offices to give users and handset makers a taste of the kind of features they can expect, the software vendor said.

Microsoft’s wireless strategy also draws on existing products such as its Windows 2000 operating system and a new version of its groupware — Exchange 2000 — that is being readied for delivery later this year, Waldman said. Exchange is being redesigned so that it can be used to manage “millions of mailboxes at the same time,” as well as incorporate videoconferencing and voicemail, he added.

The software giant is also preparing releases of its applications such as Outlook and a version of its Internet browser called Microsoft Mobile Explorer that will run on devices like mobile phone and PDAs.

In many ways, the company hopes to achieve in the wireless world what it did in the desktop PC market, offering a broad range of software for clients and servers that create a “virtuous cycle” when used together, Waldman said.

“We can’t ever look at the devices alone when we think about wireless strategy,” he said. “It has to be the clients tightly integrated with our server offerings to provide great end-to-end solutions.”

Microsoft will compete with Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., Inc. and many others, but the company believes it can offer a broader range of wireless offerings than any other single competitor, Waldman said.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., is at