This week, Microsoft announced that the company will ship its "Stinger" software for next-generation cell phones later this year, adding multimedia capabilities and advanced Internet functionality to the pervasive devices. Stinger is essentially a stripped-down version of the Windows CE software that drives Pocket PC devices. Microsoft says that by leveraging its Windows technology, the company will be able to bring cell phones to previously unheard-of levels of functionality. And, as with Pocket PC devices, Microsoft won't make the hardware; instead, several cell phone makers have signed on to introduce devices based on this new technology.
  
The phones, which will feature email, contact, and calendar functions, along with music and video capabilities and full-color screens, will come at a price, however, with an average cost of about $800. Companies such as Samsung, Mitsubishi, and Sendo have signed on to make Stinger phones, and later this year, access providers such as Vodafone, Telstra, T-Mobile, and Telefonica Mobile will test-market the devices in Europe and Australia. But four of the top five cell companies--Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, and Matsushita--don't plan to embrace the Microsoft technology and are, in fact, working on a rival system. Siemens also is developing a competing product on its own.
  
First-generation Stinger phones will feature 8MB of RAM and 100Kbps to 150Kbps data speeds, which will require cell networks that are only now beginning to appear. A US release of these phones is currently uncertain.