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Microsoft and Palm, former rivals in the market for smartphones – hand-held devices that combine the functions of mobile phone, mobile e-mail and personal digital assistant – teamed up on Monday to announce a range of Windows-powered smartphones aimed at the business and mobile professional market.

Under the terms of a new strategic alliance, Palm has licensed the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system for an expanded line of Treo smartphones, the first of which will be available on Verizon Wireless’s national wireless broadband network.

The first of the Windows-powered Treo smartphones is expected to be launched in the second half of next year and will complement the existing line of Treos that run the Palm operating system.

Both the 600 and more recent 650 models have been well received in the market and are often viewed as the main competitor for Research in Motion’s iconic Blackberry device.

The significance of the new partnership between Palm and Microsoft was underscored on Monday at an event in San Fancisco attended by Ed Colligan, Palm chief executive, Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, and Denny Strigl, chief executive of Verizon Wireless.

“We have long believed that the future of personal computing is mobile computing, and our collaboration with Microsoft is an historic step in delivering that vision to a larger market,” said Mr Colligan. “We’re confident customers will see a differentiated smartphone that delivers our world-class usability on Microsoft’s flexible and robust Windows Mobile operating system. “We collaborated with Verizon Wireless first because of its high-speed wireless network.”

Mr Gates added: “This is a landmark alliance that will help businesses remain on the cutting edge of competitiveness. Demand for accessing information on mobile devices is soaring, and businesses want a low-cost, scalable solution.”

“We’re excited to team with Palm and Verizon Wireless to deliver a winning Windows Mobile solution that connects professionals to their critical information while on the go.”

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