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New software lets Palm, Microsoft share data

A new application aims to bridge the gap between Palm- and Microsoft-based handheld computers, allowing the devices to share information for the first time.

A new software application aims to bridge the gap between Palm- and Microsoft-based handheld computers, allowing the devices to share information for the first time.

Peacemaker Pro from Conduits Technologies allows personal digital assistants (PDAs) running Palm, Psion and Microsoft's Pocket PC operating systems to share contact and calendar information, as well as files stored on the devices.

Conduits' technology exists primarily to capitalize on a recurring nuisance in the high-tech world: incompatibility. Developers of desktop software have to tweak applications and plug-ins so that their products will work efficiently on Windows, the Mac OS and Linux.

In the handheld world, rivals Microsoft and Palm, along with a host of smaller competitors, have pursued divergent paths that often result in products with little or no interoperability. Establishing a technology as a standard can mean financial rewards for a manufacturer, but the process often irritates customers.

Peacemaker takes advantage of the infrared port on most PDAs, which can be used to "beam" data back and forth between devices. Beaming has always been possible between Palms, and Microsoft has included the feature in its Pocket PCs, but the companies have not enabled the devices to talk to each other.

Taking note of the respective popularity of the different devices, Peacemaker is largely targeting Pocket PC users who want to communicate with Palm users, not the other way around. Palm accounts for roughly three-quarters of the device market, according to market researcher International Data Corp., while Microsoft claims around 10 percent.

The Peacemaker application is designed specifically for Pocket PC users to download, according to Conduits president and founder Jason Patterson, because Palm users may be more reluctant to go to extra lengths to communicate with the smaller number of Pocket PC devices.

"The major factor was the number of installed units out there," Patterson said. "You're not going to get the 6 million Palm users to download an application to beam a business card to the one guy with the Pocket PC."

In addition, although beaming is popular among Palm users, the feature might be an afterthought to Pocket PC owners, who may buy the devices for the digital music and video applications or Web functionality, Patterson said.

While the new application may pave over some of the unfortunate effects of the Palm-Microsoft split from the perspective of consumers, there are a number of brewing incompatibilities in the handheld world.

Microsoft and Palm, along with Palm licensees Handspring and Sony, have each chosen a different expansion technology for their devices.

Microsoft-based devices use Compact Flash slots, while Handspring has developed its own proprietary Springboard expansion slot. Palm, meanwhile, recently announced it will integrate the Secure Digital card into its own devices. Sony uses its own Memory Stick expansion technology.

None of the add-on cards for these devices, which include extra memory, digital cameras, MP3 players and GPS (Global Positioning System) modules, are interoperable.

Peacemaker Pro does not address these issues, but it does take a step in that direction by allowing Palm, Pocket PC and Psion users to share data.

Eventually, Peacemaker may be sold through Pocket PC manufacturers or Microsoft directly, Patterson said, noting that a version of the software is already pre-loaded on Hewlett-Packard's Jornada Pocket PC. The software also could be targeted at corporate buyers for companies whose technology departments support both Pocket PC and Palm, he said.

The software sells for $14.95 through the Conduits Web site.