Microsoft in the Palm of Your Hand

No doubt, one of the most useful technologies I have at my disposal is my BlackBerry, developed by Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) . It's become an integral part of my daily life. In fact, it's not uncommon for me to edit my Motley Fool pieces on the device -- usually when I'm at a meeting or traveling.

As you might expect, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) doesn't want to be left out of the mobile data application market -- it wants its Windows operating system to dominate the realm. To that end, the company announced it will enter a deal with one of the pioneers of mobile data, Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) .

Microsoft's move points to what it believes to be a fundamental shift in the market for mobile data -- its belief that the market will become more mainstream. And the company certainly wants to protect its dominance in the operating systems market at all costs. So now Windows will be inside every Treo phone.

As an indication of the importance of this deal, it was Bill Gates himself who made the announcement. As usual, he was quite clear in his vision: "In our view, every professional will have a phone that connects up to their e-mail, and they'll have a phone that works super well with Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, and Office."

The new Treo will use Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5 operating system. While the Treo has been a strong seller, the fact remains that the end users are mostly consumers. However, with the strength of Microsoft's operating system and customer base, the Treo should make inroads into the corporate market. There will also be seamless integration with Microsoft Exchange, which is pervasive in corporate America.

For a company the size of Microsoft, the Palm deal probably won't move the needle much from a revenue standpoint. But this is significant for the seemingly perpetual sideways movement in Microsoft shares. Talk has run something to the effect that Microsoft's dog days have long passed. It no longer seems to be that lumbering giant, hobbled by regulatory issues and loath to innovate, that it was in years past. The company's licensing agreement with Palm and inroads into a potentially huge market point to a company that's still outwardly focused (on competitors and innovating) as it takes on RIMM, despite its size and the associated scrutiny its actions receive from regulatory authorities.

What's more, Microsoft cut a deal with VerizonWireless (NYSE: VZ  ) to distribute the Windows Treo -- an arrangement that will remain exclusive for several months. The device will operate on a broadband network known as EV-DO, which can achieve speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps. Verizon will also benefit as it demonstrates the power of its new 3G network.

For a small company like Palm, the Microsoft deal could expand sales significantly -- some estimate that sales will double. Keep in mind that there are about 130 million Exchange users in the world, though only a small portion use mobile email devices.

The loser will be RIMM. For many years, the company has had a Microsoft-like lock on the corporate email market, but those glory days are beginning to look numbered.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.


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