The biggest news from the recent CTIA Wireless 2007 show: After years of mostly talking about mobile applications and content, the industry is finally acting. And, lo and behold, Microsoft is positioned to cash in.

A big push to standardize mobile phone operating systems has begun. Standardization is desperately needed as feature-rich handset models are introduced at an ever-faster clip. Handset operating system standardization will enable more phones to run the same applications; reduce application development time and cost; and streamline handset testing and management for mobile operators. Best of all, handset operating system standardization will attract more talented software developers.

With approximately 2.5 billion mobile phones in use today, new models featuring more processing speed and memory, and 3G networks rolling out all over the world, there is a significant opportunity for software developers.

The race is on to extend high-level operating systems (HLOSs) beyond smart phones and into mid-tier handsets.

Symbian OS’s advantage is that it was specifically developed for mobile devices. Though Symbian is the leading smart phone OS supplier, Nokia owns close to 50 per cent of the firm, and some doubt Symbian can remain independent.

Linux is an open source operating system, and is widely seen as manufacturer-neutral. However, Linux was developed for servers and is being adapted to the mobile environment, and mobile standardization efforts are fragmented.

Still, it has made significant inroads in Asian mobile phone markets.

The mobile phone industry has long been leery of Microsoft gaining control of the handset operating system. Microsoft has wisely responded with a two-pronged strategy: Windows Mobile is Microsoft’s branded solution for enterprise and professional users who demand desktop compatibility; Windows CE is Microsoft’s embedded solution (available largely in source code format) that can be branded and customized by others for the consumer market.

Intrinsyc Software was among the first to spot the opportunity. Its Windows CE-based platform, Soleus, enables fast development of a wide range of consumer mobile devices with all of the advantages of a Microsoft engine — which is precisely what the industry needs.

The biggest challenge for handset applications remains the user experience. People love to hate Microsoft, but by offering a flexible user interface on a platform that can interoperate with desktop PCs and the Web, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to power the new generation of multimedia, multifunction mobile phones.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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