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IBM, Palm: PDA plan doesn't target Microsoft

The pair is bringing IBM's platform to the PDA, but isn't jabbing at Microsoft. Rather, they say they only want interoperability among Microsoft, IBM and Lotus apps.

HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- Over the past year, Palm Inc. has been partnering with IBM Corp. and integrating IBM's WebSphere Micro Environment and Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME)-certified runtime environment with its handhelds in an effort to target the enterprise. caught up with Jonathan Oakes, Palm's senior director of business solutions, and Jonathan Prial, IBM's vice president of development and sales for pervasive computing, at IBM's research facility and learned more about the collaboration -- and what users can expect.

What is Palm's strength in the market today?
Jonathan Oakes: Our strength is on the retail side. But 80% of the devices we sell are interacting with corporate data. I think, in large part, that factor will drive enterprise purchasing.

What technologies do you share with IBM?
Oakes: On the device side, the partnership allows our users to sync with the WebSphere Everywhere Access Server wirelessly or via a cradle. We have the IBM DB2 footprint on the client. The most horizontal feature is personal information (PIM) syncing and e-mail, as well as instant messaging using Lotus Sametime. These are very tangible applications for the end user. On the horizon, there will be the J2ME runtime license.

Why should businesses choose a device with a Palm operating system over a device with a Windows operating system? Isn't it easier to add another Windows device?
Oakes: It is a misnomer that there is a Microsoft world and a Palm world. IBM works in a world where all of these systems interact. You can buy a Palm device and sync with [information in] Domino, Exchange, or a Microsoft Office document. We support all of the standard file formats from Microsoft. More importantly, we are focusing on open standards. We support Web standards and Web services technology. Moving forward, we will be working with the open standards development community.

Jonathan Prial: You may have Microsoft servers and Microsoft desktops and Office, but a lot of servers are NT, and the middleware is not necessarily Microsoft. There might be Web-based e-mail, and that can be on any type of device.

Does IBM partner with Microsoft on mobile device technology?
Prial: We work with Microsoft. We need the APIs. But we will not go to market with them like we have with Palm.

What must happen for companies begin adopting wireless?
Prial: This year was the year of pilots. We have developed a return on investment tool for our customers that helps them determine their productivity gain by the hour or by the day. We're finding that the payback is generally [occurring within] six to nine months. We're doing an enterprise promotion offering, Mobile Office Entry Jumpstart Solution, to get this going. There are clear benefits to wireless technology. When you begin to use it, it changes the nature of how you think.

This is the year we will go from pilots to implementations. We have already seen many successful deployments. A dozen years ago, United Parcel Service (UPS) worked with custom devices, low-speed networks and proprietary protocols, and it has seen a great return on investment. Now there are much more powerful devices, open standards, and network connectivity is improving.

It seems that a lot of the deployments with great success stories are blue-collar implementations. Why is that?
Prial: Wireless applications often help white-collar workers save time. And time saved is not a great measure of value. With field force and sales force applications, you have a better measure -- a product was shipped faster, an insurance agent visited more homes -- because the metric is more tangible.

What will the next big wireless innovation be?
Prial: Phase two is pushing information to users -- applications that will find me wherever I am and get me the e-mail or the message that I need. Research in Motion [Ltd.] pioneered that with their BlackBerry device and wireless e-mail service. That will be the key driver for the next generation of applications.


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