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Microsoft plans to add technology to its Office business-software suite for easily culling data from large corporate databases, a move that could squeeze smaller, specialized competitors.

The technology, Business Intelligence, has been used mainly by full-time analysts or other more specialized workers.

Microsoft believes more everyday workers may begin to use it for tasks such as setting budgets or tracking customer satisfaction.

Chris Caren, general manager for Office Business Applications at Microsoft, said the software will be part of Office versions geared toward business users, although he would not provide specifics such as pricing. The next version is due by the end of 2006.

Analyst Peter O’Kelly with the Burton Group said he sees Microsoft’s move as part of efforts to get people to upgrade to Office 12, which will compete heavily with previous versions of the same product.

He said the move also comes as Microsoft is facing increasing pressure from other competitors, such as Sun Microsystems’ OpenOffice suite.


Conglomerate reportedly to split

Leisure conglomerate Cendant is to break itself up in a radical four-way split that is likely to be one of the biggest corporate shakeups this year, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported yesterday.

The conglomerate, which owns Avis and Budget car rentals, EBookers travel , Ramada Hotels and Century 21, could announce the split this week, said the paper, which did not reveal the source of its information.

It quoted an unnamed Wall Street banker as saying that one option being considered was to divide into four separate companies in the property, hospitality-services, travel agency and vehicle-services sectors.

Another option was to split the group into two divisions: a travel business that included Avis, Budget, the hotels and travel agents; and a property division that included Cendant’s estate agents.

Officials at the company were not immediately available to comment.


Director to create adventure shows

Yahoo! has hired Richard Bangs, an author and film director, to create multimedia packages about exotic expeditions on mountains, rivers and islands around the world.

Bangs’ initial package will debut today and revolve around a climb up the Eiger, the Swiss peak featured in the 1975 Clint Eastwood movie, “The Eiger Sanction.”

Bangs hopes to present other adventures at least once a month.

The foray builds upon Yahoo!’s recent effort to display material that can’t be found anywhere else on the Web. The strategy is designed to set Yahoo! apart from Google, Microsoft’s MSN and America Online and expand its audience, already the largest on the Web.

Yahoo! signaled its intent to develop more in-house material last year with the hiring of Lloyd Braun, a former ABC television executive, to run its media division.


Mobile e-mail on cellphones

Cingular Wireless is introducing a service for nonbusiness users to get BlackBerry-like mobile access to their e-mail accounts from AOL, Yahoo! and MSN Hotmail on a cellphone.

The new service is designed to adapt the look and capabilities of a Web portal or e-mail program such as Outlook to the limited screen size, keyboard and processing power of a garden-variety handset.

The Java-based e-mail application initially will be available to download on existing phones starting today, with five models from Motorola and one from Samsung Electronics.

It also is being pre-installed on new phones, though not immediately through all Cingular sales channels.

There’s no monthly charge for Cingular Mobile Email, but users will need to subscribe to one of the company’s wireless Internet plans with a monthly allotment of data usage. Jim Ryan, a Cingular vice president, said a $5 monthly data plan should have enough capacity to check e-mail a few times daily.


Rokr fanfare failing to impress

Motorola’s iTunes music phone, developed with Apple Computer and unveiled last month with flair, may have flopped.

As many as six times more customers are returning the Rokr phones than is normal for new handsets, according to American Technology Research analyst Albert Lin, who said he talked to distributors, retailers and call-center workers at Cingular Wireless, which sells the phone.

Motorola Chief Executive Officer Ed Zander said he is disappointed with the phone’s marketing and plans to fix it.

“We got off to a little bit of a rough start,” Zander said. “People were looking for an iPod and that’s not what it is. We may have missed the marketing message there.”

Compiled from Bloomberg News, The Associated Press and Reuters