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IBM in Net deal with PlanetRx

Big Blue and the online pharmacy will announce a deal this week that allows virtual shopping via Palm handheld devices, advancing IBM's vision of Net devices everywhere.

IBM and PlanetRx, an online pharmacy, will announce a deal this week that allows virtual shopping via Palm handheld devices, advancing Big Blue's vision of Net devices everywhere.

The concept of "pervasive computing" is a major theme inside IBM these days as it pushes beyond the personal computer to strategies centered on devices, software and services that make the Net accessible anywhere, anytime. Microsoft's chief executive Bill Gates made this a central theme of his Comdex keynote speech yesterday.

This strategy also reflects chief executive Lou Gerstner's proclamation earlier this year that "the PC era is over." At that time he said that "the PC's reign as the driver of customer buying decisions and the primary platform for application development is over. In all those respects, it has been supplanted by the network."

In the announcement with PlanetRx, IBM will supply hardware and software forming the service's infrastructure. Based on this, users with Palm III devices or higher can access PlanetRx.com's remote shopping service and order products such as over-the-counter medication and medical supplies, vitamins, herbs, healthcare and beauty products, according to sources familiar with the announcement.

IBM will be providing its RS/6000 SP and Netfinity servers, database software, Websphere software for e-business Web applications, and transcoding technology. This technology translates information from Web format to a format usable on a smaller device, such as a handheld, according to sources.

PlanetRx.com is providing the product vision, content, commerce and customer support for the shopping application. The remote shopping service will be available November 29. By combining PlanetRx.com's secure online service with IBM's pervasive computing technologies, the two companies are trying to push more Web-based applications to smart devices, many of which are now limited to PC Web access.

PlanetRx.com is a Web player on the move. It had an initial public offering of 6 million shares on October 7 led by Goldman Sachs. PlanetRx.com also has agreements with America Online and iVillage.

"Imagine you're on vacation and you don't have a doctor's number. You send an email with your PalmPilot with a question about whether something adversely interacts with your medicine," said a source. Users will be able to download a free remote shopping application from the PlanetRx.com Web site and then be able to place orders by connecting their device to the Internet using a wireless or standard modem, according to sources.

Future offerings will provide PlanetRx.com's full line of products, including prescription medications, and features such as PlanetRx.com's prescription reminder.

The deal with PlanetRx may be the first trickle in a gush of Net device and service announcements from IBM expected later this year and next year. IBM is also expected to sign deals with telecommunications companies later this year. One deal will be centered on a "countertop" device which IBM will supply to Internet service providers and telecommunications companies.

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