The software giant decided last spring that 7 million BlackBerrys running a non-Microsoft OS was 7 million too many, and it set out to solve that problem with a new version of its Windows Mobile that included the always-on "push" email functionality that has been RIM's big selling point.
And Microsft packaged it up in a way that is obviously intended to "netscape" RIM. ("To netscape," meaning to force users to accept for free a product that includes all the major features of a competitor's product, rendering the competitor's business model irrelevant. See "restraint of trade." Named for business techniques used by Microsoft against innovative competitors including Netscape, Real Networks, and Stac Electronics.)
Microsoft is giving away what RIM is selling that is, if you've made the investment in Microsoft Exchange Server to run your e-mail system. The only missing piece at this point is a handheld device that's anything like as usable as the BlackBerry.
The next couple of months will tell the tale. RIM has come out from under twin clouds NTP's patent suit was one, and the possibility that the U.S. Patent Office would uphold NTP's patents (it hasn't) was the other. If BlackBerry sales resume their previous upward climb, RIM will have dodged a major bullet. But it still faces an artillery barrage from Microsoft.