Motorola buys Kahn's Starfish Software

In a rather inauspicious start to Motorola's latest deal - the acquisition of Starfish Software - both companies' leading executives stood by awkwardly one night last week in San Francisco as assistants wrestled for several minutes to actually open the bottle for a champagne toast.

The unexpected acquisition means that connectivity software specialist Starfish will become an independent wholly-owned Motorola subsidiary.

Bob Growney, president and chief operating officer at Motorola, wouldn't discuss the exact financial terms of the deal, but said the deal was "of the order of several hundred million US dollars." Starfish has about 100 employees and is very close to going public, he said. The real discussions to acquire Starfish only got underway about 30 days ago, he added.

Starfish is a software startup helmed by Borland International founder Philippe Kahn. He established Starfish after leaving Borland after the development tool vendor got into serious financial difficulties.

Starfish provides software for the "global synchronisation and integration of wireless and wireline devices", according to Kahn. The company is best known for Rex, its PC card device that stores contact and calendar information, and for Kahn's ideas about wearable computing devices.

At the heart of Rex is Starfish's TrueSync technology, a way of enabling the synchronisation of data between a variety of computer devices. Becoming part of Motorola will bolster the TrueSync brand so that it will be synonymous with synchronisation in the same way that the Dolby brand means great sound for hi-fis, Kahn said.

"The success here [of the Starfish acquisition] will be how quickly Philippe and I can get it [TrueSync] into a lot of different parts of Motorola communications," Growney said.

Under the terms of the acquisition, Kahn, a well-known industry character, will report to the board of Motorola's newly-formed communications division as well as act as one of the senior advisors to the company's CEO's office. After Growney said that Kahn was already helping out, the Starfish head honcho chimed in with, "Yeah, I'm already a pain in the butt. But these guys [Motorola] are really good. They like controversy," he said.

Kahn welcomed the Motorola acquisition because it will give Starfish access to the company that "ships over half of the wireless devices in the world," he said. "This is amazing," he added. "Instead of doing an IPO, we can focus on building technology." Kahn also drew attention to Motorola's somewhat battered share price. "Hey, you guys have been a little beaten up. We'll take your stock, that's undervalued stock here," he said.

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