Apple and Google both proved that no prior cell phone experience was needed to jump into the game. Apple is enjoying runaway success with the iPhone. And Google chief Eric Schmidt said this week that Android phone shipments are on pace to exceed 21 million units this year.

Last month, Google started selling an HTC-built Nexus One phone directly to consumers, a controversial move that served to undercut its Android partners, particularly Motorola ( MOT).

Microsoft risks the chance of upsetting its own partnerships with hardware shops like HTC and Samsung, two of the manufactuers that have signed on to build new Windows-powered phones.

The move can be seen as only more bad news for other players in the already crowded smartphone market. Outfits like Palm ( PALM) are simply clinging to life. And Microsoft's pervasive presence in businesses like desktop software and email servers could strike very close to Research In Motion's ( RIMM) lucrative enterprise market.

If Apple and Google's phone efforts have proved anything, having loads of money to throw at the project is a huge advantage. With $36 billion in cash and investments in hand, Microsoft has at least one edge on the competition.

Microsoft and RIM shares were up 1%, while Motorola was down 1% in late trading Thursday.

-- Written by Scott Moritz in New York

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