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 Recent Stories
   America Online Strikes Wireless Web Pacts
 
Microsoft Launches Interactive
Online Service for Wireless Devices

By Kalpana Srinivasan   Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Microsoft Corp. is introducing an interactive version of its online service for cell phones and handheld computers that lets users not only receive information, but send messages or make an Internet purchase.

It's yet another step in the company's strategy to extend its Web presence through its online network, MSN, to consumers wherever they might be. Like others that operate Internet portals, including America Online and Yahoo!, Microsoft wants to expand its reach well beyond the personal computer.

"The wireless Web is now turning into a highway," said Brad Chase, senior vice president of MSN. "It is no longer a side road."

Company chairman Bill Gates was expected today to launch the latest version of MSN Mobile, an offshoot of the MSN online service, at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association convention here.

Gates is among a number of high-profile speakers attending the event, many of whom don't come from traditional cellular phone companies but are part of the burgeoning drive to offer wireless data.

Microsoft also planned to announce agreements with Nextel and AirTouch Communications Inc. to offer the interactive MSN Mobile service. Company officials say they are building relationships with others as well.

MSN Mobile was introduced last year, allowing users to receive wireless information like stock quotes, weather reports and lottery information in text message form on interactive pagers and cell phones. As part of its announcement, the company said WebLink Wireless Inc. and Totally Free Paging Inc. have agreed to offer an enhanced form of these one-way notifications on their products.

The new version of MSN Mobile, to be available in April, will make it possible to send and receive information on a wireless device when using MSN services such as Hotmail for exchanging e-mail, Expedia.com for making travel plans and MSN MoneyCentral for managing personal financial matters.

That means consumers can check and respond to their Hotmail messages or find an itinerary and then a book a ticket on Expedia using a cell phone or handheld computer with Web capabilities.

But company executives stress that as they and others forge ahead in providing wireless content, consumers increasingly will need ways to manage the information coming at them.

"When you're using a phone to browse the Web you don't have a PC keyboard in front of you," Chase said. "You don't have the features that make it a lot easier."

Microsoft says that giving consumers an easy way to tailor the information they get is key to its mobile Web strategy.

"Our vision for mobility is that people are going to be born with a cell phone attached to their hip," said Paul Gross, senior vice president of the server applications and mobility group. But without giving consumers a way to control their communications, that phone could easily become a hindrance, he said.

The latest version of MSN Mobile gives users more ways to customize the information they want to receive. They can go to the MSN Web site, set their preferences and download it to their phone. That would enable users, for example, to select that they be notified immediately when certain people send messages or to only receive stock updates at specific times of the day.

"Our PC integration allows the user to be in control and prevents wireless overload," Chase said.

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