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Ben Charny

Staff Writer, CNET

Electronics giant Toshiba said this week it has developed software that lets cell phones use programs stored on most home computers, a breakthrough that further erases the divide differentiating the two devices.

Phones with the “Ubiquitous Viewer” software can read e-mail stored on a PC, open a document or even use the PC’s Web browser to view Web sites. The only requirement is that the PC uses Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Japanese carrier KDDI will debut the software in March. The company said other wireless operators have expressed interest, but did not disclose further details.

The software is another example of how cell phones are catching up to personal computers both in features and functionality, mainly due to breakthroughs in chip designs that have let manufacturers pack handsets with more power to process data. Modern-day handsets have the computing punch of a late 1990s desktop computer. About half a decade ago, mobile phones were the size of bricks and did little more than make and receive calls.

But just as cell phones catch up to their computer cousins in functionality, they’ve opened themselves up to another common computer problem: viruses and worms. It has become clear in the last few months, as more instances of cell phone viruses surface, that hackers are now targeting cell phones.

In its statement, Toshiba said the Ubiquitous Viewer system uses passwords to protect the connection between phone and PC, and the information over that same connection is protected by secure socket layer (SSL) encryption, a commonly used set of rules for managing the security of a message transmission on the Internet.

“It offers users real-time PC access at all times, whether they are sitting in a park or traveling on a train,” the company said in a statement. “Ubiquitous Viewer is a breakthrough software innovation that bridges the gap between mobile phones and PCs.”