REDMOND, Wash. (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. and San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. formed a joint venture Tuesday aimed at making digital phones reliable and secure tools in connecting to the Internet.

Currently, digital phones are used primarily for voice calls, but with wireless technology, the phones could be used to dependably link laptop computers with corporate networks to access e-mail or the Internet.

Qualcomm makes wireless phones and wants to sell equipment that will boost the ability to send data by digital phones.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, wants to sell a type of Windows software to ensure digital phones can send and accept data securely.

The collaboration, which includes a partnership with nine other telecommunications companies and digital phone service vendors, creates a new company called WirelessKnowledge, based in San Diego.

Irwin Jacobs, Qualcomm's chairman and chief executive officer, said the venture pools common technologies to offer customer better services and products.

``We want to get away from that need to be tethered,'' to telephone lines plugged into wall circuits, he said.

Microsoft president Steve Balmer said the goal is to develop a broad range of applications that can be used not only in pocket communications devices and personal computers, but also in automobiles and other equipment.

``I'm not sure we'll be able to tell in a very few years what's the difference between a wireless PC'' and a digital phone, Balmer said.

The technology will eventually allow Internet access anywhere, he said. There also will be devices, programmed with ``microbrowsers,'' to perform such functions as reporting a car's operating record to an insurance carrier.

WirelessKnowledge, which will be owned equally by Microsoft and Qualcomm, will develop products and services based on wireless technology standards and Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, the BackOffice family of computer server software, and the Microsoft Commercial Internet System.

Microsoft and Qualcomm also hope to eventually develop a computer chip for wireless devices that has Windows CE embedded in it.

The nine companies that partnered with WirelessKnowledge are AirTouch Communications, AT & T Wireless Services, Bell Atlantic Mobile, Bell Mobility (Canada), BellSouth, GTE Wireless, Leap Wireless International, Sprint PCS and US West Wireless.

Once the technology is available, sometime early next year, consumers will be able to connect to the Internet and their own business networks from digital phones, desktop and laptop computers, pagers and other communications gear, said John Major, WirelessKnowledge's president and chief executive.

Data services will include the capability to maintain messaging, e-mail, calendars, contact lists and basic information services through the Internet, along with access to some corporate data networks. Additional features and services will be added over time, Major said.