I wish I were a sportswriter. Then this column could be a tragic ballad about Mike Tyson's truly sad implosion against Kevin McBride. But I write about computer companies, so I don't see that many sad implosions. Mostly just bizarre occurrences.
For instance, last week, Microsoft announced that it added a secure-server component to its Windows Mobile 5.0 platform. Strangely, the news sites were once again filled with lamentations about how Microsoft is again looking to crush some poor competitor.
The argument there is that the new add-on, called the MSFP (Messaging and Security Feature Pack ), was designed as a BlackBerry killer. And why is Microsoft looking to nuke RIM? Now I'm not that big a fan of BlackBerries -- or PDAs in general. The only smile those things ever brought to my lips was during a two-hour procurement meeting where an enthusiastic, if somewhat geriatric, CEO put forth his case that the entire sales department get blueberries. Even back then, those blueberries were real productivity enhancers.
But analysts the world over seemed alarmed by this apparent move on RIM. Thing is, this is one area where I fully expected Microsoft to make a big move, and I can't believe that RIM was any more shocked about it than I was. Further, I'd go so far as to venture that Microsoft would have made this move whether RIM was around or not; the company has no choice.
Windows CE. PocketPC. Windows Mobile. These have all been direct extensions of the Windows operating system, which is Redmond's bread and butter. And let's face it (I'm sure Redmond has), devices are getting smaller and smarter, so Microsoft sticking solely to a desktop-bound OS would be foolishness. This move is critical for the company. Lose this race, and Microsoft is on an inevitable path to long-term business defeat. That's just not Redmond's style.
In fact, that evolution seems tied into what some of the “complaints pundits” have made about MSFP's overall security capabilities. The nasty here is, although MSFP has utilities to remotely wipe out data on PDAs or smart phones (in case the device is lost or stolen), it can't wipe out data on flash cards or other external media. That may be a shortcoming for today's PDAs, but probably not tomorrow's.
Yeah, I'm predicting, but them I'm a pundit, and they'd take my PunditPass if I didn't. SD (secure digital) cards are on their way out as far as PDAs are concerned. The amount of data being stored on PDAs can only increase if these devices are going to become really useful. So who wants to run around with a smart phone and a little case full of color-coded flash cards? Not me. And lo and behold, Nokia already announced the N91 smart phone with a 4GB hard disk. The phone will inexplicably be offered to Crocodile Dundee before I can get one in New York, but it's still a portent of things to come.
External media exists because folks must move data between devices. The real beauty of PDAs is that they're just as portable as a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or flash card. A PDA with a Bluetooth connection or a USB cable is really all the portability you need.
Now that's a long-winded trip to defend Microsoft's data-wiping decision, and maybe it's a stretch. Then again, new PDAs come out so quickly nowadays that building a flash-aware wiping utility simply may not have made sense. The upshot is, not only am I for Microsoft bettering itself in the PDA arena, but it's really inevitable. And no matter what fellow pundits might think, I can't believe RIM didn't foresee it, which just makes the company's next product release that much more exciting. Just another day in the PC arena.
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