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Microsoft, Nokia may strike apps alliance Wednesday

Microsoft and Nokia are set to unveil an alliance on Wednesday that will likely reveal a plan to deliver Microsoft’s Office applications on Nokia handsets.

The president of Microsoft’s Business Division, Stephen Elop, and Nokia’s Kai Oistamo, executive vice president for Nokia Devices, will host a teleconference from New York Wednesday morning to discuss an alliance, Microsoft said in a news alert Tuesday. It didn’t say what the alliance will involve.

Given that the news is coming from Microsoft’s Business Division, which oversees Microsoft Office, Exchange Server and other business software, it is likely to be a plan to put Microsoft Office 2010 applications or their Web-based counterparts, Office Web Apps, on Nokia phones, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

The companies have an existing alliance around Exchange Server, but the news Wednesday is likely to be about more than that if a Microsoft president is taking part, he said. Nokia already licenses ActiveSync, the protocol for allowing devices to talk to Exchange Server and upload business e-mail to mobile devices.

Microsoft has said it wants to make Office Web Apps, which are Web-based versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, accessible to people on devices other than the PC, so putting them on Nokia phones would make sense. Microsoft is expected to unveil a test preview of Office Web Apps this month and then make them widely available around the same time it releases Office 2010 in the first half of next year.

Chris Hazelton, research director for The 451 Group’s Mobile & Wireless team, was more cautious about predicting Wednesday’s news, saying it is more likely to involve improving the performance of Exchange-based e-mail on Nokia’s Symbian-based phones rather than delivering new applications.

Hazelton sees the two companies strengthening their partnership, particularly in making Exchange-based e-mail more user-friendly on Nokia's Eseries smartphones for business users. There is room for improvement in terms of the user interface and the management capabilities for network administrators, he said.

Nokia currently has a basic e-mail client for delivering Exchange-based e-mail on those phones. “You can’t get HTML e-mails and people miss formatting,” he said. “It’s not like the iPhone or even Windows Mobile. So there is a lot they could do.”

Another possibility is a plan to make Microsoft’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) applications accessible on Nokia handsets, in a move to better compete with SAP. Earlier this year the German software company said it was partnering with Sybase to offer its business applications on mobile devices, including the iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian and Palm devices.

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