Microsoft shook up the handheld PC market last week with the acquisition of the supplier of the Web browser to Symbian, its chief rival in this field.
Microsoft bought UK company STNC, which sells its small-footprint Web browser technology to the Symbian consortium. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Microsoft said it plans to integrate STNC technology, including the Hitchhiker mini-browser, into its future digital cellular products to enable users to access e-mail and the Internet. Last November, Microsoft announced a partnership with US phone manufacturer Qualcomm to create a Windows CE-like operating system for smart phones.
The acquisition could threaten Symbian, the joint venture backed by mobile industry heavyweights Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Psion and others. It was set up a year ago to develop Psion's Epoc operating system as a software platform for next-generation mobile phones.
However, Microsoft's productivity appliances manager, Kevin Dallas, said 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 is a direct competitor of Windows CE in the OS arena, Dallas said this was just one part of the mobile technology sector.
Microsoft is "trying to focus on the complete wireless phone requirement", Dallas said, and plans to release a detailed product road map by the end of September.
A spokesman for Symbian in the UK also said the move would have no effect on the consortium. Symbian already licenses technology from other parts of Microsoft and will continue to license STNC Web browser components, he said.
Diana Hwang, research manager for smart handheld devices at analysts IDC, said that Symbian and Microsoft could both benefit by working in a complementary fashion but that it was too early to speculate about the relationship.
"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 for Microsoft, especially in terms of getting into the smart-phone market," she said. "(It has) been a little behind."
STNC managing director Ran Mokady will become a director within Microsoft's productivity appliances division; the company's 40 other workers are expected to be retained.
Established in Bury St Edmunds in 1993, STNC was privately owned before the sale and was backed by venture capitalist firm 3i.
STNC was unavailable for comment.
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