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February 10, 1999


By CBR Staff Writer

We know Sun Microsystems Inc doesn’t want to own a piece of Symbian Ltd in case it spoils its chances with the phone/PDA company’s competitors, but it is holding exploratory talks on a number of fronts. Symbian, the European based company which was set up last year to produce portable data communications devices and whose shareholders include handheld computer maker Psion and mobile phone makers Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia, is an attractive partner for Sun because it plans to build devices which use no software from Sun’s bitter rival Microsoft Corp. Earlier this month, during his European tour, Sun CEO Scott McNealy met the CEOs of Ericsson and Nokia, as well as meeting Symbian executives, but he insisted there was no talk of Sun becoming a shareholder. I think Symbian is a wonderful company, but there is no reason for us to own equity, he said. The main reason why not, said Sun executives, is that this might encourage Symbian competitors, such as Sony, Phillips and IBM, to use Microsoft’s Windows CE or some other portable device software. We want to be an arms supplier to all sides, said McNealy. Symbian’s phone/computer hybrids will use elements of the Epoc 32 operating system developed by Psion, as well as a communications stack developed by the small British company STNC, a longstanding partner of Psion. Symbian is creating a new fully 32-bit EPOC operating system to target any CPU type and machine architecture; it reportedly stands for Electronic Piece of Cheese. Symbian is also a licensee of Sun’s recently announced Java based networking protocol, Jini. This means that the devices will have to run Sun’s Java Virtual Machine, possibly on a plug-in Java card developed by Sun. Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola are all already Java licensees. Mark Tolliver, who heads Sun’s recently formed consumer division, emphasized that the JVM is not a competitor to Symbian, but will run on top of the operating system. There may, however, be some overlap between some of Sun’s recently acquired Beduin low end browser and email software and STNC’s Hitchhiker product, and Sun may be seeking to displace this. McNealy is also likely to have discussed the role of Java servers on phone networks using Java enabled devices, especially with Ericsson, which manufactures telecommunications switches.

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