Bill Gates used his keynote speech at ITU Telecom to announce a partnership with Vodafone to jointly develop mobile web services and applications.
The announcement was seen as throwing the two companies into competition with the Open Mobile Alliance and the Parlay Group, both of which have wide industry backing to carry out similar work.
But Annemarie Duffy, senior marketing manager of Microsoft's Mobile Devices Division, said the announcement should be seen in a similar light to when Microsoft buried the hatchet with IBM to develop web services standards.
"People got confused about what was announced," she told Mobile Europe. "There is a huge challenge for developers and operators at present. If you want to take advantage of introducing new applications it is incredibly difficult to do that today. There are applications available but not in a consistent way that work with the operator. There is no standard for each operator to expose their services.
"It [the announcement] was about the world's largest operator and the world's largest software company coming together to propose standards to address this industry issue.
"We cut a deal similar to that with IBM on web services. Vodafone recognised this needs to be addressed."
Duffy did admit there was a material difference with the announcement, as Vodafone itself is in a non-competitive position with Microsoft, whereas IBM was not.
Even so, the logic for the alliance is clear, and drew an instant conclusion from Neil Macehiter, research director with Ovum. Macehiter said, " In reality, this announcement will be greeted with scepticism. Many will see this as an attempt, motivated by self-interest, to hijack existing initiatives from the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and The Parlay Group, both of which already have widespread industry support. Microsoft and Vodafone will undoubtedly exploit their position as originators of the framework to ensure they are the first to support it, which will only add to the concern."
The two companies hope to head off such criticism by unveiling their "roadmap" for the web services, before holding a series of workshops in January 2004, at which the industry as a whole is invited to make comments. They will take the recommendations forwards to standards bodies for proposed adoption.
The Roadmap Proposal essentially says the two companies will adopt existing industry-standard Web services architecture for mobile applications development. Developers can use Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET development tools to build applications for PCs and mobile devices that use mobile Web services.
The proposal includes integrating mobile security and payment services with the Web services architecture, as well as "exposing" location and messaging services.
Sanjay Parthasarathy, vice president of the Platform Strategy and Partner Group at Microsoft said that enabling applications developers to use a consistent, standardised development approach will dramatically increase the number of applications that can access mobile network services from mobile network terminals and PCs.
The companies also released a white paper, titled "Mobile Web Services: Convergence of PC and Mobile Applications and Services". More information can be found at www.vodafone.com and microsoft.com/mobilewebservices.