PSION, the maker of personal organisers and a key producer of next-generation mobile phone software, is about to get a raw lesson in the application of dominant commercial power - courtesy of Bill Gates.
For the UK company and for Palm Computing - maker of the Palm Pilot, until now Psion's chief rival - that is the consequence of Microsoft's launch yesterday of its latest version of Pocket PC software. More than 60 companies, including PC market leaders Hewlett Packard and Compaq, lined up to launch products based on Pocket PC, which uses Windows CE, a stripped-down version of the ubiquitous PC operating system software.
The new version of Pocket PC software can play music in the MP3 audio format, display electronic books and play video clips. Compared with the first two versions of the software, it also has an easier-to-use interface for retrieving personal contacts, schedules and lists. The software includes a Web browser derived from Microsoft Explorer, the market leader.
Greg Levin, director of marketing for Microsoft Europe, said: "With our partners, we think we're bringing quite a significant product to the market." Without giving exact figures, he said Microsoft had invested "tens of thousands of man hours" and "millions of dollars" in the Pocket PC.
That commitment has seen a host of companies scramble to get aboard what could be the next Microsoft juggernaut. Besides PC builders, a host of enterprise software makers, including market leader SAP, and other electronic goods makers such as Casio, have joined in the launch.
The devices, which will appear in the shops in May, are expected to cost from pounds 300 to more than pounds 400 depending on the size of memory and other features. Higher-end models will offer colour screens.
Compaq's Aero 1550, which weighs less than 6 ounces and is about half- an-inch thick, will run for up to 14 hours and recharges automatically when the device is returned to its docking cradle. It has a slot that lets users add a 56k modem, more memory and peripherals.
HP's Jornada series, in addition to offering the Microsoft suite of applications, including Word and Excel, will feature Image Expert CE for viewing and editing digital images. There are plans to include wireless accessories for GSM networks as well as a Bluetooth module to enable wireless access to the internet.
Where this leaves Psion is difficult to fathom. Yesterday the firm, which leads the Symbian software alliance grouping together Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola, the three biggest mobile makers, chose not to comment.
Analysts who follow Psion appeared rather nonplussed by Microsoft's latest offensive. Jane Pierce of HSBC said her firm's "sell" rating on Psion had little to do with Microsoft. "It's really driven by a detailed valuation of Symbian's prospects," she said. "Doing that, we've come up with a share price that is a long way short [of the current price]."
Yesterday Psion shares closed up 15p at 2,793p, but they are 62 per cent down from their February high of 7,270p.
Other analysts who back Psion are …