Palm Makes Enterprise Play

Vendor hopes reorg, acquisition will make it a bigger player for businesses

Wanting to mean as much to CIOs as it does to average Joes, Palm Inc. last week announced plans to reorganize and acquire mobile middleware company Extended Systems Inc.

The move makes Palm one of a growing number of wireless hardware and software vendors eager to show they have the goods and the support necessary to play in the enterprise.

Palm officials said the Santa Clara, Calif., company will reorganize into three new business groups, one focused on corporate customers, one on consumers and one on Palm OS.

The Enterprise Solutions Group, to be managed by Extended Systems President Steve Simpson, will include all back-end products and services, including the mobile services infrastructure business that Simpsons company brings to the table. The acquisition is due to close in June.

Using Extended Systems wireless middleware and synchronization products, Palm plans to roll out a plan that includes providing customers with device and synchronization packages, setting them up with wireless middleware, and offering services that connect their legacy systems to wireless platforms, officials said.

"Palms acquisition of Extended Systems ups the ante for competitors in the enterprise wireless space," said Eric Schanberger, IT manager for Color Kinetics Inc., in Boston. "The merged company will be able to offer the de facto PDA [personal digital assistant] platform coupled with a proven wireless middleware solution."

Extended Systems supports several operating systems with its middleware, including Microsoft Corp.s Windows CE platform, which competes with Palm. Simpson said thats not going to change.

The Individual Solutions Group should benefit from the acquisition because Extended Systems product lineup includes a Bluetooth software developers kit. Palm has plans to support Bluetooth, the ever-nascent protocol that enables short-ranged wireless communication, and this spring will unveil a handheld PDA with a secure digital expansion slot similar to Handspring Inc.s Visor. The slot will hold various application modules, the first of which will support extra memory and Bluetooth.

Meanwhile, several Palm supporters are making strides in moving into the enterprise space. Wireless pioneer JP Systems Inc. this week will change its name to JP Mobile Inc. and shift its focus to its SureWave MobileServer wireless access middleware for enterprise customers. The company plans to sell the software directly to back-end hardware companies, which will then install it into their servers and sell it as a package.

And at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association show in Las Vegas next week, Infowave Software Inc. will announce the third version of its Wireless Business Engine software, which also supports multiple platforms, including Palm and Windows CE.