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RealTime IT News

Think in English, E-Mail in French

So you're an employee in the evolutionary world of information technology for a Fortune 500 company. Youre boss gives you a project coordinating with your counterparts in France. Here's the dilemma: while many of the engineers speak English, their e-mail systems are rigged for French, which you do not firmly grasp. The job requires you to exchange many e-mails via your personal digital assistant, including important files. What do you do?

IBM thinks it has the answer to break the language barrier in the form of its new ViaVoice Translator software, which makes possible two-way language translation on handheld computers from English to French, Italian, German and Spanish. Specifically, ViaVoice Translator allows users to enter a phrase in one language as text, and have it returned in another language either as text or read out as speech. The application runs on Pocket PC and WinCE platforms.

The Armonk, N.Y. firm unveiled its latest tool to compete with an increasingly globalized world Wednesday at the DEMOmobile 2002 convention in La Jolla, Calif.

Machine translation allows users to dynamically translate long documents. Under the aegis of its Websphere Translation Software focus IBM argues that products such as its ViaVoice Translator are important because more and more people are using PDAs to download content from all over the world.

The news is also indicative of IBM's broader philosophy that Internet use is moving steadily away from stationary PCs to embedded devices. As far as competition, Systran is a major player alongside IBM. AltaVista's Babelfish is also a leading product.

Although handheld sales declined considerably in the tech spending dearth of 2001, studies indicate mobile systems use will be on the rise in the future. IDC estimates the worldwide mobile and wireless professional services market will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 58.5 percent to reach just under $30.4 billion in 2006. Interestingly, IDC said IBM is the undisputed leader in this category.

Sophie Mayo, director of IDC's Wireless and eCommerce Implementation Services research, said the wireless segment of IT is far from mature, and depends on the cooperation of the players in the wireless ecosystem.

"The major forces at work in this ecosystem are devices, carriers, system integrators, mobile middleware, applications providers, enterprises, mobile workers, and consumers," Mayo said. "Each party is influencing the success of the other, and interdependencies are numerous."

Priced at $50, ViaVoice Translator can be downloaded from ibm.com or loaded from a CD into a PC and then synchronized to a handheld device. Users can download one language pair, or all four. Text can also be active-synched from the desktop, or from a soft keyboard or handwriting recognizer directly into the iPAQ. It can also be copied and pasted from any text-based document such as Pocket Word or e-mail. The translation appears as text, and can also be played back using IBM's embedded text-to-speech technology.