IBM plans wireless functions for WebSphere

IBM on Wednesday announced enhancements to its WebSphere product designed to help companies push existing applications out to wireless device users while requiring few changes to their computing infrastructure, IBM officials said.

The enhancements are aimed at businesses who want to make programs such as CRM (customer relationship management) and SFA (sales force automation) applications available to workers via devices such as handheld computers and cell phones. Providing wireless access to such applications typically requires developers to customize security functions, display configurations and other aspects of the software in order to make them accessible to wireless users.

IBM plans to release in July its WebSphere Everyplace Serve Enable software, which attempts to automate some of these customization tasks, said Jon Prial, director of marketing and strategy for pervasive computing at IBM. The new software will be able to check what type of device a user has and then modify the content being requested to suit the screen size and processing capabilities of the device, he said.

In addition, corporations will be able to distribute and provide access to information securely over their existing network infrastructure, without having to set up a system specifically for managing wireless activities, according to Prial.

While IBM claims it will be able to support numerous corporate high-end applications with the software release, one analyst said that matching applications to differing devices is still a challenging task.

"One of the difficult parts of providing wireless services, especially when porting applications to a handheld, is the device side of things," said Darwin Singson, practice director at Zona Research. "Matching applications with the user interface on a device is the single most difficult component of the whole wireless puzzle because there are so many things involved."

A number of smaller companies are offering similar wireless services but without much success thus far, Singson said. IBM will face the same challenges as other companies, but may be able to use its reach in the industry to drive adoption of its product.

"If IBM could leverage its existing customer base and educate them on the benefits of this type of software, it could help them convert customers," Singson said.

The software, which will compete with offerings from Oracle, Microsoft and others, will run on several operating systems including Microsoft's Windows 2000, Sun Microsystems' Solaris and IBM's own AIX. IBM is also supporting a number of operating systems used by device makers including Palm's Palm OS, Symbian's EPOC, Microsoft's PocketPC and NTT DoCoMo's I-mode software.

IBM would not release pricing for the WebSphere Everyplace Server Enable software at this time. WebSphere is the name for IBM's application server, a software platform from which various applications can be managed and deployed.

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