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Microsoft to Adopt Adobe's Rival Format For Mobile

In a surprise move, Microsoft plans to use a version of Adobe Systems' Flash technology in its Windows Mobile OS -- despite working on a competing format of its own.

"They [Microsoft] plan to include it in Windows Mobile later this year," Anup Murarka, Adobe's (NASDAQ: ADBE) director of technical marketing for mobile and devices, told InternetNews.com.

Murarka said Flash Lite 3.x would be included in the mobile OS, as would Adobe's Reader LE software for viewing Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Both will be available to Windows Mobile OEMs worldwide through the agreement.

It's unclear which versions of Windows Mobile will include the two Adobe technologies. The current release is 6.0, but Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is working on 6.1 and, reportedly, 7.0.

The deal may seem counterintuitive considering that Microsoft is well underway trying to get users and developers to switch to its own nascent rich Internet application technology, Silverlight -- which includes a mobile version due out later this year.

Microsoft debuted Silverlight last spring, positioning positioned the cross-browser, cross-platform media technology as a "Flash killer."

Yet it seems Microsoft may have had to swallow its pride in order to get a leg up in the mobile space -- a case of so-called "coopetition." Browser-based multimedia plugins, after all, is an area that Adobe owns.

"There's a healthy competition [between Microsoft and Adobe] but, clearly, Adobe has a pretty big head start," Murarka said.

As if to hammer home the point, Adobe on Monday also announced that around 500 million mobile devices now run the Flash Lite mobile runtime.

Microsoft spokespeople were not available for comment.

The news marks the second time in recent weeks that Microsoft has done a deal with a major mobile competitor. Earlier this month, Finnish mobile phone colossus Nokia announced plans to bundle a mobile version of Silverlight with its Symbian-based S60 handsets sometime later this year. Nokia S60 phones already bundle Flash Lite.

Similarly to its relationship with Adobe, Microsoft competes with Nokia in the market for mobile operating systems.

Although the agreement with Adobe might seem to have come about begrudgingly, the partnership ultimately could turn out to be a beneficial association for both companies, according to one analyst.

"[The deal] is cognizant that there are established standards for the Internet, including the mobile Internet," Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at analyst firm JupiterResearch, told InternetNews.com. "It's a recognition that it will be a while before we see a mobile version of Silverlight."

Should users, and Adobe, expect Microsoft to bundle Flash Lite and Reader LE only until it releases the mobile version of Silverlight? Not necessarily, Gartenberg said.

With Adobe now boasting half a billion Flash-capable devices in the market, such a move now seems less likely than in years past.

"There's no doubt Microsoft is going to find ways to get users to install Silverlight," he said. But, "it's going to be very hard for Microsoft to stop supporting Flash and only support Silverlight."