Big Blue's little PC companion

Some people swear by their Palms, and others swear at them. IBM says its newest Palm clone, the WorkPad PC Companion, is the answer.

Because 3Com's Palm models are designed for business users -- but not to be part of a company network -- some Palm owners have gotten a bad rap as gadget-laden troublemakers who bombard help desks with compatibility problems. IBM designed its newest WorkPads with business networks in mind.

On Tuesday, IBM's mobile computing division released two versions of the WorkPad based on 3Com's latest Palm OS. The systems are identical to 3Com's Palm models but integrate tightly with Lotus' Notes and Microsoft's Exchange.

Like the latest Palm models, both WorkPad devices run on Palm OS 3.1 and have significantly improved displays and beefed up memory and battery life. IBM goes a step further, however, offering wireless connectivity and around-the-clock service and support as well as easy data synchronisation with Notes and Exchange.

The low-end WorkPad model 30x has a street price of $US369. The beefed-up WorkPad c3 model debuts next month with a suggested retail price of $499. Both models will be available through IBM resellers in the US and direct from IBM's Web site.

IBM will launch a WorkPad Web site March 1 that will serve as an information hub for the WorkPad line.

The vendor is also differentiating the WorkPad from the Palm model by bundling three applications previously sold separately to WorkPad users. The latest WorkPads come with Lotus EasySync to easily synchronise with Lotus Notes; HotSync, which enables infrared syncing with desktop PCs; and IBM Mobile Connect, for synchronisation via the Internet with Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange servers.

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