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PalmSource, RIM Connect With Blackberry

CHICAGO -- Palm OS licensees will be able to connect between Palm-powered and RIM Blackberry devices thanks to a new distribution agreement, inked Tuesday by the two companies.

Solidifying the partnership, developers at PalmSource showed off a pre-alpha version of Palm OS Mail for Research in Motion's (RIM) Blackberry Connect to attendees of the Research in Motion (RIM) Wireless Enterprise Symposium 2004 here.

The deal is long overdue for Palm OS users, who have been waiting since the March 2003 launch of Blackberry Connect -- a licensing program that integrates RIM's Blackberry Enterprise Server (a data and e-mail gateway) with mobile devices.

Jeremy Green, principal analyst at U.K.-based research firm Ovum, told attendees a survey was conducted three years ago to see what the most popular enterprise mobile application was, and then conducted the same survey this year. Surprisingly, he said, the results were the same.

"The one thing [our research] indicates is that the application that dominates is still communications," he said during a presentation Tuesday. "It's the one thing people are doing, and the one thing people are looking to do next."

In February, the two companies announced their agreement, as well as the launch of Palm OS 6, called "Cobalt," designed and optimized to work behind the firewall. At the show, David Nagel, PalmSource CEO and president, said the February agreement was "the most important announcement in our short history." PalmSource is a spinoff from parent company Palm, the PDA maker, announced back in 2001.

The Enterprise Server sits between the mobile user and the corporate network, a push technology that provides its users with instant updates to information like the latest sales figures, market demographics or even what the parking status is like at the corporate headquarters.

Similarly, rivals Microsoft and U.K.-based Symbian both signed at the launch of the licensing program's launch last year. But, it wasn't until December 2003 that RIM and PalmSource officials started work on a joint development project to integrate the two technologies.

When asked about the delay getting PalmSource on board, Limp said it takes a lot of negotiation to get the many disparate parties involved to work together. So they decided to separate the integration deal, announced in February, with the distribution agreement Tuesday.

"The task of negotiating complicated agreements with multiple parties is daunting enough, so we decided very early to separate it into two buckets, and knowing that the technical issue was the long-lead item, we did that agreement about four months ago," he said. "In between now and then, its been about getting to know the complexities of not only distributing the technology that ends up in the hands of our licensees, but it also has to touch the carriers, so you're talking about two very large and vocal constituents that you have to represent when you're talking about the contract between us and RIM."

Until earlier this year, PalmSource had been in competition with RIM, using the e-mail gateway services of Good Technology to deliver e-mails to users. Good Technology and RIM have been involved in numerous legal skirmishes over patents.

Tuesday's deal in no way alters its relationship with Good Technology, Limp said. In situations like these, he said, you have to keep agnostic and not favor one e-mail gateway over the other.

"I think there's room in this market, mobile messaging is now not only a reality but it's demonstrably a very big reality, and when you see a market that is that big, I certainly think there's room for two, if not three players," he said.

The PalmSource e-mail client will not be available to Palm OS users until the second half of 2004. A demonstration was given during the keynote, a stripped-down version of what Palm OS users can expect with the Blackberry offering. Users can send e-mails using a stylus and screen-based QWERTY keyboard, the keypad on the device or an add-on keyboard. Filtering options are available, as well as using a document manager to download a file, access and edit it and return it without the other user knowing it went to a mobile user.

The agreement -- and the e-mail client -- comes at a fortuitous time: RIM has been demonstrating the next iteration of its Enterprise Server to attendees Tuesday, version 4.0. Due out later this year commercially (RIM employees are testing pre-final builds now), the biggest feature in Enterprise Server 4.0 is the fact it does away with the need for synchronizing data at the cradle, pushing updates to the mobile user wirelessly while they are out in the field.

Other enhancements include: new asset controls for IT departments, such as remote control of what applications can be added to handhelds; added security support in the form of Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and encryption of files stored in the device; and speed dial for phones.