Palm teams up with IBM for Java apps

Enterprise Java applications will be able to run directly on Palm Inc. Tungsten handhelds now that Palm has licensed IBM Corp.'s WME (WebSphere Micro Environment) Java run-time environment, the companies announced Monday.

The deal, unveiled on the eve of the JavaOne conference beginning Tuesday in San Francisco, is one part of a broader effort by IBM to bring the benefits of Java to a wide variety of devices, said Joe DaMassa, vice president of marketing in IBM's pervasive computing unit. Also Monday, IBM announced that Nokia Corp. will offer developers a tool set to work with the Eclipse open-source development platform originally created by IBM and that QNX Software Systems Ltd. will integrate WME into its QNX Neutrino real-time operating system. QNX Neutrino is used in consumer electronics, retail automation systems and other platforms.

Expanding Java from servers and PCs to other kinds of devices should make developers more productive by letting them use their existing skills to write applications for a variety of platforms, DaMassa said.

Palm, of Milpitas, California, will offer WME on all its Tungsten devices, a line of enterprise-focused handhelds that currently includes the Tungsten T, the wireless LAN-equipped Tungsten C and the Tungsten W, which has GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio System) wireless capability. The run-time environment, an implementation of J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) that takes up about 600K bytes to 700K bytes of memory, may be extended later to Palm's consumer-focused Zire hardware line if a demand for it appears, said Chris Morgan, director of strategic alliances at Palm Solutions Group.

Applications written with any Java development tool will be able to run on the Tungstens through WME, but IBM's WebSphere Studio Device Developer will be optimized for creating Palm-based Java applications, the companies said. 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, Morgan said.

IBM, of Armonk, New York, and Palm's partnership could help to create a counterpoint to Microsoft's PocketPC platform, which currently is way ahead of Palm in the corporate market, according to Todd Kort, an analyst with Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut. Though the market is small -- worldwide, fewer than one million handhelds per year are being purchased to run corporate applications -- some enterprises are adapting their software to put it in mobile users' hands.

"Ease of development is one reason why PocketPC has been popular," Kort said. Also at play are the large customer bases of Microsoft's hardware partners, such as Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Toshiba Corp., and the perception of those companies as more financially stable than Palm, he added.

"Palm needs some credibility in the enterprise space, and IBM brings that to the table. Palm couldn't do this on their own," Kort said.

On a larger scale, IBM's overall WebSphere strategy seems to be a gambit against Microsoft .Net itself, he added. It may succeed if the millions of Java developers get excited about moves like the Palm, QNX and Nokia partnerships, he said.

"It's really hard to predict how this whole thing's going to come together," Kort said.

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