Dell Rides Wireless Wave

Company balances deals with Microsoft, Good, RIM.

For a company that got into the handheld space late in the game, Dell Computer Corp. is juggling a lot of options for giving customers remote access to back-end data on handhelds.

"Clearly, wireless messaging as it relates to a server is a pretty big focus," said Tony Bonadero, director of wireless, handhelds and new businesses at Dell, in Round Rock, Texas.

Although the company plans to do big business selling servers running Microsoft Corp.s Exchange 2003 software, Dell does not expect customers to depend entirely on Exchanges integrated mobile capabilities.

"I havent yet seen a compelling reason to migrate to an all-Microsoft solution," said Christopher Bell, chief technology officer at People2People Group, a media services company in Boston. "The hardware support on the mobile side is too thin."

To that end, Dell is casting a wide net, from set deals with Good Technology Inc. and Microsoft to prospective development plans with PalmSource Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd.

Following a vague partnership announcement in April, Dell next month will start reselling Goods G100 device and the associated back-end GoodLink Server software, which compete with RIMs BlackBerry device and BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) to provide wireless access to corporate e-mail.

Good next week plans to unveil an upgrade to GoodLink, according to company officials in Sunnyvale, Calif., and even current versions of GoodLink feature capabilities still missing from BES.

At the same time, Dell plans to continue to resell RIMs products, despite reports to the contrary. While they do not appear on the companys main Web site, BlackBerry products are available to Dells large-business customers through the companys corporate portal, Dell said.

Dell is talking to Good and RIM about developing a Dell-branded device that will run one of Microsofts handheld operating systems and connect wirelessly with BES or GoodLink. But dont expect to see such a device any time soon. The company will not release a handheld with integrated WAN support before the second half of next year, Bonadero said.

In the meantime, Dell is getting ready to release the next version of its Axim X5 handheld, the Pocket PC operating system device that the company launched in November. The new version, due in the fall, will be a thinner, lighter version of its predecessor, "a little brother to the X5," Bonadero said.