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3Com puts AOL in the palm of your hand

America Online takes its second big step this week toward its goal of "AOL Anywhere," striking a deal with 3Com to give members access to their AOL email on the popular PalmPilot.

America Online today took its second big step this week toward its goal of "AOL Anywhere," striking a deal with 3Com to give members access to their AOL email on the popular PalmPilot handheld computer.

Under the deal, AOL members will be able to send and receive email from their AOL accounts on their PalmPilots. In addition, 3Com will bundle AOL's new software with its Palm Computing organizers and PalmModem accessories, the companies said.

The two firms will jointly market-test a special Palm III and PalmModem package to AOL members. Financial terms were not disclosed.

This is the second See related newsmaker: Eric Benhamou deal in as many days for AOL in its push toward offering users "AOL Anywhere." Yesterday, the Dulles, Virginia-based company said it planned to invest $1.5 billion in Hughes Electronics in an effort to develop AOL TV, its Internet television product. AOL hopes its TV product will keep it competitive with interactive television and set-top Internet services being offered by its rivals in cable.

With the proliferation of handheld computers and other wireless devices and talk of the growth of Internet appliances and converged computers and television, AOL is striking deals such as the two this week to hold on to its top spot among Internet access providers in the United States. The company also is exploring options to pick up steam overseas, particularly in Europe.

Under today's deal, AOL and 3Com agreed to two longer-term initiatives for delivering AOL content and services via the handheld platform.

As part of the initiatives, they will explore distribution of AOL-branded wireless handheld organizers based on the Palm Computing platform, 3Com's Palm VII organizer and Web clipping technologies, and Sun Microsystems' Java II technology for the United States and international markets.

3Com and AOL also plan to develop a version of AOL software for the Palm Computing platform. The software would allow subscribers access to AOL content, email, Instant Messenger and Buddy List features, online calendars, and other AOL features.

"Offering our members the benefits of connected interactivity beyond the computer is another piece of our AOL Anywhere strategy to make AOL available through multiple connections and multiple devices," Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services, said in a statement.

Robin Abrams, president of Palm Computing, discussed the deal from the PC Expo in New York: "This deal means that Palm is the client of choice for AOL. It means you can view AOL email on your Palm III, V, or VII, and it is an endorsement of our Web clipping service," she said, referring to the Palm.net wireless Internet service for the Palm VII.

The deal with AOL will bolster Palm?s efforts at keeping Microsoft and its Windows CE partners at bay, Abrams said. "The differentiator between Palm and Microsoft is the 'Palm Economy'" of third-party developers, licensees, and dedicated users, she said.

She added that Palm will benefit from AOL's relationship with Sun Microsystems as the company expands its presence in the enterprise.

Reuters and News.com's Stephanie Miles contributed to this report.