Microsoft, Orange launch Windows Live in France

Nick Antonovics

Microsoft and France Telecom said on Wednesday they would launch the U.S. software giant's instant messaging system on mobile phones in France in December and other European countries next year.

"This launch is important for both France Telecom and Microsoft," Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said in a joint statement by the companies.

The service, the first offering convergence between PC-based and mobile-based instant messaging services, would be deployed in Britain and Spain in 2007 and elsewhere later.

The software, which Ballmer said differed from the MSN messaging already available on some phones, could eventually allow 135 million France Telecom customers to interact with 240 million worldwide Windows Live messenger users.

However, the rollout would be limited at first by the compatibility of handsets with the new software.

France Telecom Chief Executive Officer Didier Lombard told a news conference the service would be available after downloading from December for 700,000 existing Orange customers and it hoped to have an installed base of "several million" users by 2009.

Orange is the brand that France Telecom uses for its mobile and Internet services.

The service would be available on nine handsets in December, six of which already exist, and "several dozen" by end-2007.

He declined to discuss pricing of the new service, except to say charges would be "reasonable" to encourage take-up by young users. He did not see the new service cannibalizing Orange's short message service (SMS) revenues.

"We don't see a sharp fall in SMS," Lombard said, adding people would want to keep some messages in a more private space.

Once the software is deployed in France, Britain and Spain, the companies said they would look at offering other services, including video over Internet Protocol on computers and 3G video conference on mobile phones.

The companies declined to discuss their financial objectives from the new service.

"This is not about a licensing arrangement. We are coming together as two equal partners in sharing costs and revenues," Ballmer told reporters.

He did not rule out similar launches with other operators. "The agreement we signed today is not exclusive," he said.

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