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Microsoft, AT&T Wireless Ally

Microsoft continued its campaign to grab control of the mobile workplace, announcing a partnership with AT&T Wireless to jointly offer wireless devices and data services.

As part of the deal, AT&T Wireless will begin offering its customers wireless services through Microsoft's Pocket PCs, Smartphones, and laptops. The Pocket PCs will be available by the end of the year, while the Smartphones will be available in the middle of next year. In addition, the two companies said they have spent the last six months working together to simplify the enterprise implementation of wireless-data services.

"We're very enthusiastic about the work," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a conference call. "It's the kind of partnership that will allow us both to push the limits, push the state of the art, and show the value of wireless for the customer."

With the Pocket PC and Smartphone, Microsoft envisions mobile workers having access to the many Microsoft software applications that dominate the desktop world, including Outlook and Office.

"Although Microsoft is a big player in the enterprise applications space, they're not a big player in the wireless applications space," Gartner Group analyst Philip Redman said. "The good news is there hasn't been much adoption yet in this space."

The two companies will offer businesses mobile services over AT&T Wireless' wireless-data network, which is in the process of rolling out. AT&T Wireless CEO John Zeglis said the company would have its next-generation data network 99 percent completed by the end of the year.

"This relationship is not founded on one of those vague agreements that doesn't amount to much," Zeglis said. "We're in the late stages of product development. This thing is real."

AT&T Wireless also signed on to use Microsoft's MapPoint and .Net Compact Framework, which would enable location-based services.

"It's good for Microsoft, but I don't see much of what AT&T is getting out of this," Redman said.

"It's good that they're a partner with Microsoft," he said, "but then again, who isn't?"

Microsoft has made a splashy push into developing products, software and services geared toward enterprises' wireless needs. Two months ago, at TechXNY/PC Expo, the company unveiled its new Tablet PC, a hybrid of a PC and PDA, which the company hopes will serve the non-deskbound information worker.

Earlier this month, Microsoft struck an alliance with major systems integrators to jointly develop and market mobile deployments to businesses. The initiative, dubbed Microsoft Mobility Workplace, brought the Redmond, Wash., company together with HP Services, Accenture, Cap Gemni Earnst & Young, and other systems integrators to roll out Windows-based wireless devices, applications and services.

Redman said wireless devices were poised for widespread adoption by enterprises, as the technology evolves and businesses see the value of combining connectivity and mobility.

"We're starting to see the technology come together with the demand from the end-user," Redman said. "Look at PCs, once connected together through the Internet their value increased tenfold."