updated 3/22/2005 2:33:06 PM ET 2005-03-22T19:33:06

Symbian Ltd., maker of the top operating system for "smart" cell phones, is licensing e-mail technology from Microsoft Corp., an unexpected deal with a rival that may bolster Microsoft's bid to extend its dominance in computer software to mobile devices.

The agreement will enable users of Symbian-based phones to automatically send and receive e-mail from accounts running on Microsoft's Exchange Server, a network platform popularly used by corporations to manage Microsoft's ubiquitous Outlook e-mail and calendar applications.

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Neither company revealed the terms of the licensing agreement.

Symbian, a joint venture formed by some of the world's best known phone makers, has emerged as the best-selling platform for advanced cell phones designed to double as both handheld computers and mobile entertainment centers.

However, most of that success has come in European markets where lead investor Nokia Corp. is most influential. In North America and other markets, Symbian has gained only modest traction as compared with rival wireless platforms such as Palm and Windows Mobile from Microsoft.

Overall, the smart phone market remains quite small, leaving plenty of room for rivals to vie for customers as the devices grow more popular. According to the research firm IDC, converged mobile devices accounted for only a few percent of the more than 600 million phones sold in 2004, but that number is expected to grow sharply this year.

Marit Doving, executive vice president of marketing at Symbian, said the deal would allow the British company "to offer the broadest possible choice of e-mail and personal information management solutions."

Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of the Exchange Server Product Group at Microsoft, said the accord gave both companies the opportunity to expand the number of customers who can access their e-mail and other data from wireless services as demand for such services grows rapidly.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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