Microsoft to announce mobile Office deal with Nokia, report says

Such a move would represent a major strategic shift for Microsoft

Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Corp. are said to be set to announce a deal on Wednesday that would bring the mobile version of Microsoft Office to Nokia's market-leading smartphones.

The partnership was reported by CNET, which cited no sources. But Microsoft has sent out invitations to a joint press conference led by Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft Business Division, and Kai Oistamo, executive vice-president for Nokia Devices, Wednesday morning in New York City.

The Microsoft Business Division, or MBD, includes Office, as well as closely related products including Exchange, SharePoint, Unified Communicator, and others. Nokia Devices includes all of the Finnish firm's handsets and smartphones.

Under such an alliance, the upcoming Office 2010 might be ported to Nokia's Symbian S60 smartphone platform, said independent analyst Jack Gold. Or, less likely, mobile Office 2010 might be set to run on the Maemo mobile Linux operating system that Nokia also supports.

The move, if true, would represent a major strategic shift for Microsoft, which today only makes Office for Windows Mobile to give its mobile operating system a competitive advantage versus RIM's BlackBerry, and as consumer phones get more enterprise savvy, Apple Inc's iPhone and Nokia's Symbian-based phones.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the report. However, Microsoft has already demonstrated the ability for Office 2010 documents to be displayed on mobile phones.

With Office 2010, the company is also planning to release its first browser-based versions of Office that will run on a variety of Web browsers, including Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. These will be free, low-end versions of the Office suite.

Despite the potential to sacrifice the faltering Windows Mobile platform, Gold thinks it would be a good move. "Microsoft absolutely needs to expand its franchise of productivity apps to other platforms," he said in an e-mail.

Other firms, such as DataViz, with its Office-to-Go software, are already making software that allows users to read and write Office documents on non-Windows Mobile smartphones.

"So this is probably an admission by [Microsoft] that a) many users of other devices want to run office apps, and b) they might as well get some revenue from this instead of letting third parties do this for them, and c) they would like to get some control over what the app does and how well it runs on various platforms," Gold said via e-mail.

"Makes one wonder if [Windows Mobile] will survive much longer," he said.

If Office 2010, which is set for release in the first half of next year, is ported to Symbian, Office could be brought over to non-Nokia phones, too.

Nokia open sourced the Symbian operating system last summer.

Despite having competing mobile OS platforms, Microsoft and Nokia have cooperated. Microsoft has licensed its ActiveSync e-mail push technology to Nokia, for instance.

"So getting more tightly involved is not so surprising, especially since Nokia wants to move upstream beyond just smartphones and into other device types as well," Gold said.

While the deal will probably involve Symbian, there is a chance that it will be linked to the other platform Nokia supports, Maemo Linux, Gold says.

If the deal involves Maemo, then a potential winner would be Intel, which would stand to gain from Atom-based mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and netbooks running Maemo, he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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