IBM extends WebSphere to mobile devices

Further extending the availability of its business applications beyond the desktop, IBM Corp. on Tuesday announced WebSphere Everyplace Access.

The software allows companies to add handheld computers, mobile phones and other mobile devices to the list of clients that can access applications, all under a single IT architecture, IBM said in a statement. WebSphere Everyplace Access includes a set of developer tools, a server component, a client component and supports features such as synchronization, IBM said.

"What we are announcing today is a platform specifically directed at the enterprise," said Letina Connelly, director of pervasive enterprise strategy at IBM in Armonk, New York.

Tuesday's announcement marks IBM's latest pervasive computing move. In mid-2001 the company announced software designed to automate some of the tasks necessary to unlock applications for use on mobile devices, called WebSphere Everyplace Server Enable. Also last year, IBM released an updated version of the WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, a tool used to reformat Web content and multimedia files so they can be accessed from mobile devices. Additionally, IBM released a beta version of the WebSphere Voice Toolkit for developers to build speech-enabled applications. Previously announced products were pieces of what makes the Everyplace concept, said Connelly, noting that IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Server was targeted at service providers, not the enterprise.

"We need the transcoding piece, it does a productive piece of work. We have taken that technology and put it in a broader platform," she said.

WebSphere Everyplace Access extends the use of applications from IBM, such as WebSphere Application Server and the DB2 database, as well as software from IBM subsidiaries Tivoli Systems Inc. and Lotus Software Group. Users would be able to access their e-mail, CRM (customer relationship management), SFA (sales-force automation) and supply-chain applications while on the move, said IBM.

Advanced features, such as mobile alerts and location-based services will be added over the course of the year, Connelly said.

The WebSphere Everyplace Access client includes database queuing technology, device management capabilities and security features. The software is designed to run on devices with limited processing power and storage space and will work on most PDAs (personal digital assistants). Mobile phones will only offer Web access capability. IBM said it will be testing devices from around the world as it makes the product available globally.

Application developers can use Everyplace Tools, a part of the WebSphere Everyplace product, to expand existing applications and to build new applications, IBM said.

"If your application is already using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and Web technology, it will be quite easy to extend that to mobile devices," Connelly said.

However, users might need help from IBM or one of its partners before real mobility is achieved, Connelly said.

"In its simplest form, let's say making a manual on your company's product available on a mobile device, an IT manager could definitely do that. When you want to use synchronization it will get more complex and an IT manager, depending on skill level, could need some assistance from IBM," she said, adding that IBM will provide training, white papers and sample code.

IBM is taking its time with completing the WebSphere Everyplace picture, but it is doing a good job, said Jessica Figueras, an analyst with Ovum Ltd. in London.

"IBM is quite slow, Oracle (Corp.) has had a similar product for much longer, but then Oracle's product isn't that good," said Figueras. "IBM's offering is quite comprehensive and it all fits in, it is not just a load of bolt-ons."

Current WebSphere users seeking to make applications available on mobile devices will likely turn to IBM instead of one of the many other companies specializing in delivering such applications, and would be smart to do so, Figueras said.

"There are lot of other specialized vendors who have quite comprehensive offerings and will connect pretty much any application and deliver it on a mobile device. The problem is that these companies are struggling financially," she said. "If you've already invested in IBM technology, then WebSphere Everyplace Access is not a bad idea."

The first English-language release of WebSphere Everyplace Access will be available in the second quarter, Connelly said. A version with added features is scheduled for a third-quarter release.

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