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Sun-Netscape Alliance targets wireless Net niche

The Alliance plans to ship wireless software that will let people access their email, calendars and address books from cell phones and other handheld devices.

The Sun-Netscape Alliance wants a piece of the emerging wireless Internet market.

The Alliance, a partnership between Sun Microsystems and America Online subsidiary Netscape, will soon ship wireless software that will let people access their email, calendars and address books from their cell phones and other handheld devices, such as Palm VIIs.

The product, called iPlanet Wireless Server, is aimed at telecommunications companies, Web portal sites and businesses that offer wireless Internet services to people.

With the new product, the Alliance joins a host of other technology firms that hope to furnish Internet service providers and portal sites with the underlying technology they need to offer Internet content and transactions to wireless customers. Microsoft has hatched several initiatives to go after the market. Nokia and BEA Systems recently partnered to offer wireless software, while Oracle last fall released a set of wireless technologies called Portal-To-Go.

"Everyone's trying to get into this space because it's hot. They're all competing," said Andrew Seybold, editor of Andrew Seybold's Outlook, a newsletter on mobile computing, in Boulder Creek, Calif. "(The Sun-Netscape Alliance) has just as good a chance in the market as anybody else."

The Alliance sells software that allows service providers to offer Internet-based services to their customers. It also offers software that lets businesses create e-commerce Web sites that link them to their customers and partners.

Barbara Kay, a Sun-Netscape Alliance product marketing director, said the wireless software product will work with the Alliance's messaging software, which handles email, and calendar software, which handles people's appointments and schedules. The product is now available in a beta test version with a final version expected to ship in March. No pricing has been announced.

Kay said the wireless software will eventually support the Alliance's application server software, which will allow people with handheld devices to view Web site information, such as stock prices, and perform e-commerce transactions. An application server is software that handles transactions between a Web browser and back-end computing system.

In other news, the Alliance today announced more support for the Linux operating system. The partnership said two products--its messaging server and Web server--will now support Red Hat's version of Linux. A Web server is software that delivers Web pages to people browsing the Net. Kay said the Alliance will support other companies' versions of Linux, including Caldera Systems, if customers demand it. Sun is an investor in Caldera.