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IBM hooking Web software to wireless

Big Blue is hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of handheld devices in the business world by expanding the software to work with PDAs and cell phones.

IBM on Tuesday said it is expanding its WebSphere software so that it will work with the growing number of wireless devices that corporate America has come to rely on.

Companies use IBM's WebSphere, and software from BEA Systems, for example, to power a Web site or corporate Web server. But before Tuesday, IBM had said the software was developed mainly to be used by a personal computer.

WebSphere Everyplace Access will make personal digital assistants and cell phones compatible with WebSphere-created products, which, for example, would allow a person to get behind a corporate firewall with a mobile device and change a sales report on the fly.

The reliance on handhelds in the corporate world, like the BlackBerry e-mail device, is growing steadily. With the new software, IBM is looking to take advantage of the trend.

"IBM is saying they want to do more than just personal computers," Gartner wireless analyst Ken Dulaney said.

Dulaney says IBM is among the first of the major players in this market--which includes Oracle and Microsoft--to detail how it plans to add the growing number of wireless devices into its corporate software products.

"The other guys have said, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll do that,' but you don't feel as confident because you don't really know what they are doing," Dulaney said.

Representatives for Microsoft and Oracle could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Nevertheless, these companies have all made a good living selling the back-end software that runs companies' computer networks--from e-commerce software used in building and running Web sites to database software that collects and stores corporate information.

But as more consumers and workers use cell phones and other handheld devices to connect to the Internet, the software makers are revamping their business strategies and parlaying their expertise to target the wireless industry.