Having dealt the Palm operating system a damaging blow, Microsoft Corp. is turning its attention toward Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry platform with the hope of rendering mobile middleware obsolete.
Last week, Microsoft, Palm Inc. and Verizon Wireless Inc. announced Treo for Windows, Palms first device to run anything other than Palm OS. Verizon Wireless plans to offer the long-awaited device in the beginning of next year; it will include new features designed to maintain the simplicity that Palm has always boasted, including a Web search tool on the home screen of the device.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is readying updates to both its Exchange groupware and Windows Mobile smart-phone operating system that will let an Exchange server push corporate e-mail data to Windows Mobile devices without the type of middleware that RIM requires.
"Our argument has been to use the existing infrastructure for all mobile devices," said John Starkweather, group product manager for mobile and embedded devices at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "We think that [BlackBerry Enterprise Server] and other middleware are temporary stopgap solutions."
A Treo running Windows Mobile could be a threat to RIM because it can connect to an Exchange server without middleware and because Treo has a popular form factor and a QWERTY keyboard similar to that of RIMs BlackBerry devices.
"Our [executives] cant live without [BlackBerrys]," said Jim Ryan, a network manager at Beacon Capital Partners Inc., in Boston. "Theyve never been exposed to a Treo."
Sprint Nextel has seen customer demand for mobile e-mail access that bypasses the middleware, said officials at the Overland Park, Kan., company. The company already offers several Windows-based smart phones, including Motorola Inc.s i930, which is the first Windows Mobile device to work like a walkie-talkie on the Nextel IDEN network. Sprint plans to offer the Treo for Windows in the second half of next year, officials said.
But there are plenty of customers who want middleware for security reasons, officials added. Both RIM and Good Technology Inc. have received Federal Information Processing Standards approval for their products.
RIM officials said that security has always been a strong selling point.
"We were able to do it without middleware too, [but] we realized that without the security software, nobody would install it," said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario. "You dont have to open firewalls to [get corporate data pushed to a BlackBerry device]."
Lazaridis joined officials at Intel Corp. last week to announce that RIM is adopting Intels XScale architecture. RIM will use Intels PXA9xx cellular processor in upcoming BlackBerry devices. These models, due by years end, will run on high-speed EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) networks.
Cingular Wireless, the leading U.S. provider of EDGE services, is a big proponent of RIM. Last week the company announced plans to sell a version of Nokia Corp.s 9300 smart phone that can run on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Cingular plans to offer BlackBerry Enterprise Server support for Palms Treo 650, which runs the Palm operating system; officials declined to say whether Cingular will offer the Windows-based Treo. Cingular will continue to be a big proponent of BlackBerry, in part because RIM supports IBMs Lotus Notes and Novell Inc.s GroupWise in addition to Microsoft Exchange, officials said.
"Probably 30 percent of the market is non-Exchange," said Michael Woodward, executive director for mobile professional solutions in the business markets group at Cingular Wireless, in Redmond. "Thatll continue to be a shortcoming of Microsofts.
"Microsofts coming to the market a little bit cold," he said. "But theyre Microsoft, and they can warm up fast."