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Analyst questions Palm's gain in WebSphere deal

A recent deal between Palm and IBM will bring a mobile edition of WebSphere to Palm's Tungsten PDAs. But an analyst says Palm still has a tough task ahead of it.

A deal announced last week between IBM Corp. and Palm Inc. may be an important step in helping Palm re-establish itself in the enterprise, but an analyst said the deal lacks significance for most enterprise handheld customers.

The agreement allows Palm to incorporate IBM's WebSphere Micro Environment (WME) into upcoming enterprise editions of its Tungsten handheld devices. WME is IBM's runtime environment for mobile applications. It is based on Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME).

Peter Gaucher, director of embedded solutions for IBM's pervasive computing division, said that by being pre-integrated with the devices, WME helps to optimize connectivity between mobile applications and back-end systems.

"It enables the delivery of Java-based applications and services on the device," Gaucher said. "Java is pretty hot among device makers, as they look for ways to increase the availability of data services."

For example, Gaucher said, if a company wanted to extend an existing J2EE-based Web application to a Tungsten device with WME, it could do so without rewriting the application specifically for the Palm OS.

"They don't have to have device-specific developers," Gaucher said. "They can write the applications in Java on the back end and deploy them consistently," promoting a consistent user interface, regardless of whether the application is being used via a PC or a PDA.

While the deal is a sign of Palm's interest in regaining enterprise market share that it has lost to competing platform providers such as Microsoft Corp., Todd Kort, a principal analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said the agreement is not as significant as Palm would like enterprise buyers to believe.

Kort said that, even though Palm is targeting enterprises that may be considering Tungsten implementations, the Palm OS is becoming increasingly consumer oriented, but it isn't necessarily worth the trouble enterprises may have managing it.

"The operating system is very customizable, which is great for consumers, but it's bad news if you're an IT manager," Kort said. He added that Palm has frequently upgraded its operating system and is actively selling multiple versions, unlike devices based on Microsoft's Pocket PC-based devices.

Kort said the announcement may at least help Palm sell its products within IBM's customer base -- especially now that IBM is emphasizing mobile computing through its pervasive computing group -- and may encourage more companies that use Java to consider Tungsten devices.

In fact, Gaucher said, the goals of the partnership are to expand the Palm OS development community to include more mainstream Java developers and demonstrate that enterprises can afford to run existing business applications on mobile devices.

"As we increase the adoption of open standards and platforms, like embedded Java, the cost of extending the infrastructure out to devices is going to go down," Gaucher said.


Read why new business systems could help Palm keep an upper hand

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