Microsoft turned the mobile operating system market on its head today with the acquisition of UK company STNC, a key supplier of Web browser technology to the Symbian consortium, its chief rival in this market.
Financial details of the acquisition have not been disclosed. Microsoft plans to integrate STNC technology, including its Hitchhiker mini-browser, into its future digital cellular products to enable users to access email and the Internet.
The acquisition could be seen as move against recent competitor, Symbian. This is a joint venture backed by mobile industry heavyweights including Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Psion, setup a year ago to develop Psion’s Epoc operating system as a software platform for next generation mobile phones. (/A>see Newswire 25 June, 1998)
The move was seen as a threat to Microsoft’s own mini-operating system, Windows CE, and in November Microsoft hit back by announcing a partnership with US phone manufacturer Qualcomm to create a CE-like OS for smart phones. (see Newswire 4 November, 1998)
Microsoft groupware manager within the productivity appliances group, Kevin Dallas, claimed STNC’s licensing agreements with other companies would not be affected by the acquisition.
“STNC is working with a number of leading vendors - it will continue to license technology to these players,” Dallas said.
While he acknowledged that Symbian was a direct competitor of Windows CE in the OS arena, Dallas claimed this was just one part of the mobile technology sector.
Microsoft was “trying to focus on the complete wireless phone requirement”, Dallas said and would release a detailed product roadmap by the end of September.
A spokesman for Symbian in the UK also claimed the move would have no effect on the consortium. Symbian already licensed technology from other parts of Microsoft and would continue to license STNC Web browser components, the spokesman said.
Diana Hwang, research manager for smart handheld devices at analysts IDC, said it would be beneficial for both Symbian and Microsoft if they could work in a complementary fashion but it was too early to speculate about how the relationship would develop.
“STNC will have to go through all these issues,” she said.
Microsoft had not been as well equipped as its competitors in the mobile arena, Hwang said, and needed to use an acquisition strategy to bring it up to speed quickly.
“It’s a good thing, especially for Microsoft in terms of getting them into the smart phone market,” she said. “[They] have been a little behind.”
STNC managing director Ran Mokady will become a director within Microsoft’s productivity appliances division and the company’s 40 staff are expected to be retained.
Established in Bury St Edmunds in 1993, STNC was privately owned and was backed by European venture capitalist firm 3i, prior to the sale.
STNC executives were unavailable for comment.
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