Pity poor Windows Mobile. First, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) offered developers the equivalent of cold leftovers in exchange for new Windows Mobile software. Then yesterday, Mr. Softy announced a deal with Nokia (NYSE:NOK) to put a mobile version of the Office productivity suite on Nokia's E-series smartphones, beginning next year.

Alas, Nokia won't be returning the favor. "There are no such plans [to ship a Nokia phone with Windows Mobile]," said Kai Oistamo, Nokia's executive vice president of devices during a conference call with media and analysts. "This is about combining the best of the mobility world, that is, the Symbian capabilities that we have."


Oistamo meant no offense, I'm sure. And Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division, was quick to defend Windows Mobile. "We are very committed to Windows Mobile, very excited about the future versions of that, 6.5 coming out soon, Office Mobile for Windows Mobile coming soon after that," Elop told analysts.

Brrrrring! New features calling!
I'm not buying it, if only because that sounds exactly like the sort of "message" I would have written for Elop, had I been his PR guy. Good thing it doesn't matter. There's plenty to like about what Microsoft and Nokia have planned in the newest Office suite.

Most interesting is Office Communicator Mobile, which will allow Nokia smartphone owners to see their contacts in context. "For instance, I can see on my phone whether Kai is available, in a call or busy, based on his calendar and status. Then I can decide the best way to reach him," Elop said in explaining the software. SharePoint access is also planned.

Oistamo, if asked whether Communicator Mobile and the rest of the new Office software were meant to blunt the competitive threat from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in North America, said that Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) had more reason to worry. Whether Oistamo was being deliberately dismissive of the iPhone as a business tool isn't clear, but he's right that Microsoft and Nokia are primarily after RIM's lunch money.

That's where this deal makes the most sense. There is no established business productivity suite for smartphones. Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) has an application for the iPhone, as does NetSuite (NYSE:N). What's missing is a collaborative package for on-the-go business users. Microsoft, the PC leader in this area, is now positioned to be the mobile leader.

Look at the numbers. Combined, Symbian and Windows Mobile account for 60% of the smartphone OS market, researcher Gartner says. But Symbian, at 51%, is the heavy hitter in this relationship -- hence Oistamo's comments.

Again, what matters most is pervasiveness. Microsoft wins when its software appears on lots of devices. In the mobile market, the only way to do that is to cut the umbilical cord that's tied the Office Mobile suite to its ailing smartphone OS.

Pity poor Windows Mobile, but don't pity Microsoft. This was the move Mr. Softy had to make, and it's a good one.

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