Palm Embraces IBM's WebSphere Micro Environment

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Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) have had a rough year in the global marketplace--particularly in the Asian markets, which dropped 22% in the first quarter of 2003. However, Palm Computing is figuring that the market will begin to turn as companies extend their wireless networks out to reach these pervasive computing devices.

With this in mind, on June 9, 2003, Palm and IBM announced at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco that enterprise Java applications can now be run on the Palm Tungsten PDA, extending the capabilities of these devices into the realm of enterprise level e-business.

The Palm Tungsten PDA is Palm's top-of-the-line device, with WI-FI 802.11b connectivity and Windows Office compatibility. However, its success in the marketplace has been hampered by its relatively steep price, especially in the Asia-Pacific market, where Compaq's iPAQ Pocket PC outstripped the Palm to gain the dominant market share in the first quarter of this year. Palm, by licensing IBM's WebSphere Micro Environment (WME), is now hoping to give corporate customers a real tool for enterprise integration to company databases and applications.

Overcoming Developer Problems

One of the problems facing both Palm and Microsoft device developers has been the application development environments. These environments have been difficult for corporate developers to embrace because there have been two different operating system standards in the market: Palm OS and Microsoft Windows CE. Integrating these environments into a corporate e-business scenario has required a tremendous effort.

However, IBM's WME may now provide Palm the platform that it needs to extend the reach of its Tungsten devices beyond the realm of the strictly personal device.

In the past, applications built for Palm OS have required specialized development environments, while the differing CPUs in each device have often made it difficult to standardize. Furthermore, the rapid evolution of PDA CPUs over the past several years has put added strain on issues of compatibility for developers. In order for a company to achieve a reasonable return on investment (ROI) for its application development efforts, developers needed a stable and extensible platform.

But the volatility of the PDA marketplace--combined with the rapid evolution of PDA technology in the wireless market--has thwarted developers' past efforts to create a standards-based killer app beyond wireless email. Meanwhile, Palm and Microsoft have focused on the consumer market, and this focus has pushed the PDA into the realm of commodity appliances. As a result, corporate PDA application developers have often experienced a familiar but frustrating cycle of development woe: development cycles that outlive the devices for which they were targeted.

Beyond Utility PDA Applications

One past approach that has proven successful for some corporations has been the use of connectivity utilities and service programs, such as Palm's Web clipping for HTML or AvantGo's Pylon. These utilities provide connectivity to the World Wide Web and--in the case of AvantGo--connectivity to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes workflow systems. Other utilities--such as Mobipocket, Adobe Acrobat, and Palm Digital Media's and Microsoft's e-book utilities--try to bridge the gap for delivering large document-based information. Meanwhile, spreadsheet and word processing utility interfaces also abound, such as DataViz's Documents To Go.

However, for the corporate developer, creating a comprehensive interface to the corporate database has often been a frustrating process of piecing together disparate utilities that are frequently compromises and that require significant user training and handholding. This problem is accentuated by non-standard user interfaces that are often non-intuitive and database synchronization glitches that make the results more trouble than they're worth.

IBM's WME

IBM's WME promises to lift the developers' burden while offering a better ROI for corporations. It provides an end-to-end solution that can connect cellular phones as well as PDAs and other pervasive devices to back-end e-business applications. It accomplishes this with a Java-powered runtime environment that is Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME)-compliant--a specification that was developed by the Java Community Process. It uses the same WebSphere programming model as other WebSphere products and works in the WebSphere Development Studio IDE. At the same time, it uses a messaging interface to MQSeries Everyplace. The overall scalability of this environment should help refresh the capabilities of the Palm PDA environment while providing WebSphere-based enterprises with the first standardized toolkit to deliver applications down to the PDA.

Java Capabilities Delivered Soon to Palm Tungsten

Applications written with any Java development tool will be able to run on the Tungstens through WME, but IBM said at JavaOne that WebSphere Studio Device Developer will be optimized for creating Palm-based Java applications. In addition, Palm will offer a free development toolkit that will work with WebSphere Studio Device Developer.

WME will become available as a download for Tungsten users in September and probably will ship with new Tungsten devices starting early next year.

Thomas M. Stockwell is the Editor in Chief of MC Press, LLC. He has written extensively about program development, project management, IT management, and IT consulting and has been a frequent contributor to many midrange periodicals. He has authored numerous white papers for iSeries solutions providers. His most recent consulting assignments have been as a Senior Industry Analyst working with IBM on the iSeries, on the mid-market, and specifically on WebSphere brand positioning. He welcomes your comments about this or other articles and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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