SEATTLE Microsoft Corp. introduced software on Monday to manage advanced mobile phones much like personal computers, taking aim at a business dominated by Research in Motion's BlackBerry.
Mobile devices are acquiring the computing firepower to become crucial productivity tools for business people and management nightmares for technology administrators.
"The IT (information technology) folks, the same as it was in the PC environment, don't want to roll out 10,000 devices. They want roll out one device 10,000 times," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Jupiter Research. "Microsoft is hoping to replicate the success and the model of the PC."
The world's largest software maker will unveil software dedicated to managing devices using its Windows Mobile platform during CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote speech on Tuesday at the CTIA wireless conference in San Francisco.
The Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 will allow technology administrators to send applications to phones, control security and generally simplify management of devices which are becoming more and more complex.
This positions Windows Mobile devices, which have been sold mainly through retail shops, to appeal to organizations who buy phones in bulk to distribute to their workforce. It's a market dominated by Research in Motion's BlackBerry.
Rob Enderle, industry analyst at the Enderle Group, said the market for smart phones, advanced phones with many PC-like attributes, is still evolving and many companies like Microsoft and Apple Inc. are targeting RIM's lead.
"The market for smart phones is still largely under penetrated," said Enderle, who provides advice and industry insight to Microsoft. "RIM has a number of reasons to be concerned, (and it's) not just Microsoft."
Microsoft, which has declined to comment on persistent rumors that it is interested in acquiring RIM to tap into the company's corporate customers, said reaching out to large organizations is a critical part of its goal to sell over 20 million Windows Mobile licenses in fiscal year 2008, which ends next June.
"This is a key part of accelerating our business," said Scott Horn, general manager of marketing at Microsoft's Windows Mobile business. "You're going to see (Mobile Device Manager) really ramp up in fiscal 2009 starting July 1."
COMPETITION WITH BLACKBERRY
RIM has been working for years to extend the capabilities of its BlackBerry devices beyond its trademark wireless e-mail service, offering applications that allow workers to access company data and collaborate.
The advantage that RIM holds over Microsoft, according to Enderle, is that RIM makes both the software and hardware. It also offers the services to help companies deploy the devices, providing a cohesive single offering.
Microsoft said it formed a partnership with a service company called Enterprise Mobile to build and deploy Windows Mobile phones customized for different organizations, working with a number of wireless carriers and handset manufacturers.
New phones supporting the Mobile Device Manager software will be available in the second quarter of 2008 from Samsung Electronics, Palm Inc., Motorola Inc. and other device manufacturers.
The server software will be released in the first half of next year, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft said the average Windows Mobile smartphone now has the processing power, storage and graphics capabilities of computers from 7 or 8 years ago. They also run on more powerful networks to open up the device to new applications.
(Additional reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski in Toronto)