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Microsoft's Mobile Blitzkrieg Takes Aim At Apple

Rumors about Microsoft's mobility push continued Monday with word that Microsoft is prepping its own application store for Windows Mobile smartphones.

First, rumors surfaced indicating Microsoft has its own smartphone in the works. Microsoft quickly shot down those rumors, saying "Microsoft is not doing a phone."

Then, Microsoft launched a Web site unveiling its cloud-based mobile synchronization service, dubbed My Phone, or Skybox, a take on Apple's MobileMe for the iPhone that lets Windows Mobile smartphone users sync data to their devices through a Web-based account. .

And Monday, speculation kicked up that Microsoft was brewing up a mobile application store of its own, similar to the Apple AppStore, the Google Android Market and the upcoming BlackBerry Application Store Front.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal Monday wrote that Microsoft will soon launch "an online bazaar for distributing software to cellular phones that run Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system."

Mobile application stores have become a must-have for major mobility players. Like Apple, BlackBerry and Google Android, Palm recently launched its own application store and there is speculation that device heavyweight Nokia is preparing one as well.

An application store for Microsoft would better entrench it as a mobile player, building off its operating system to include downloadable applications. While details of Microsoft's possible online bazaar are few, the launch of an application store would be an attempt to win over some of the iPhone-faithful who have helped the AppStore, which offers users access to free and paid applications directly from their smartphones, to pass the 500 million download mark.

Rumors of an application store for Windows Mobile comes as Microsoft readies the latest version of its mobile operating system, version 6.5, which The Journal said will "provide a more sophisticated interface and could further narrow the gap with the iPhone." Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is expected to showcase Windows Mobile 6.5 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, next week.

With all of the mobile gear coming out of Redmond, it's clear that Microsoft has Apple squarely in its sights.

The My Phone synchronization service, which takes some queues from Apple's MobileMe, will let users of Windows Mobile 6+ back up and restore data stored on their smartphones to a password-protected Web site; access and update contacts and appoints through a Web account; and share photos on their phones with family and friends via the Web. Microsoft has said My Phone will be free for the time being and offer 200 MB of Microsoft-hosted storage. Apple charges $99 per year for MobileMe.

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