REDMOND – Add to Microsoft's lower -cost computing alternatives designed for the developing world a new cell phone operating system, known as FonePlus.
Microsoft officials showed a prototype of the platform at the company's day-long Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) here on July 27.
Microsoft has been dabbling with a number of different platforms with which it is hoping to attract potential first-time and/or less affluent users. Among these initiatives, some of which are commercially available and others are in test and/or research-prototype phase – are Windows XP Starter Edition, FlexGo and Internet kiosks.
But for the poorest people – individuals located primarily in developing nations who own almost no electronic devices beyond TVs, and, increasingly, cell phones – PCs are not within their budgets.
That's where FonePlus fits in, according to Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer. FonePlus is a Microsoft Research project at this point. It currently consists of WebTV technology running on a cell phone.
"Could this be your first computer?" Mundie asked rhetorically.
Such a device, whether running Windows CE or some other Microsoft operating environment, would be able to open and read e-mail, run a suite of productivity applications akin to the PocketOffice suite that runs on Windows Mobile phones today, surf the Web, and access online video content, Mundie said.
Microsoft researchers discussed FonePlus at Microsoft's Research Faculty Summit, to which Microsoft invited selected academic researchers in mid-July. In January, Microsoft officials hinted that the company was investigating the feasibility of integrating cell phones with TVs and keyboards and offering such a set-up as a PC alternative for users in developing nations.
In theory, such a system would allow Microsoft to compete on more of a head-to-head basis with the roughly $100 PC being championed by Nicolas Negroponte.
Mundie didn't offer any details on how, when or if Microsoft Research plans to implement field trials or commercialze FonePlus.