December 8, 1999 4:50 AM PST

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In a move to tap into cellular devices' growing importance as a way to access the Web, Microsoft today unveiled Microsoft Mobile Explorer software intended to power Internet-capable mobile telephones.

The software giant said its Microsoft Mobile Explorer (MME) allows handset makers and wireless carriers to provide their customers with the choice of a broad line of applications and services on data-enabled telephones and next-generation "smart phones."

Microsoft is already embroiled in a battle with handheld rival Palm Computing, which earlier this fall signed a licensing and development agreement with Nokia, the giant cellular phone maker, to create new products that combine wireless voice and data access with mobile capabilities. Microsoft has been trying to chip away at Palm's formidable lead in the handheld-computing devices market with its Windows CE operating system.

Cellular phone and handheld device makers, software firms and e-commerce players have recently redoubled their efforts to make Web services available to handheld devices. The move is generally termed an "Anywhere, Anytime" strategy. A growing number of online brokerage houses are implementing trading over wireless devices. Several e-tailers now allow customers to shop using handheld devices. Today Amazon signed a deal with Sprint PCS to allow its customers to buy from the online shopping site using Sprint's Internet-ready PCS Phones.

Microsoft said its MME is a key component of Microsoft's end-to-end wireless strategy to provide mobile Internet products that use additional technologies from the company, such as its Exchange Server messaging software and MSN Mobile Services.

"Microsoft's goal is to enable secure information access anytime, anywhere, from the device of the user's choice," Harel Kodesh, vice president of the productivity appliance division at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Today's launch of the MME platform combined with Microsoft Exchange Server and MSN Mobile Services represents a significant step forward in delivering on that promise through mobile phones."

MME is currently being used in the United Kingdom and Norway by British Telecomunications for corporate customer trials. MME is also under evaluation for current and future networks by Korea Telecom Freetel and DeTeMobil Deutsche Telekom MobilNet, Microsoft said.

NTT DoCoMo has also expressed a strong interest to deploy Microsoft Mobile Explorer-based mobile phones in its networks, the software giant said.

Components for MME will be delivered throughout next year beginning with an initial release of Microsoft Mobile Explorer for feature phones in the first quarter of 2000, Microsoft said.


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