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IBM vows to make computing pervasive

Big Blue voices its intention to grab a piece of the pervasive computing market, where computing power and Net access are embedded in everything from handhelds to cars.

IBM on Tuesday voiced its intention to grab a piece of the emerging market for pervasive computing devices, where computing power and Internet access are embedded in everything from handhelds to cars to consumer electronics.

At a press event at its Hawthorne, N.Y., research facility, Big Blue sketched out its long-term vision for pervasive computing and announced updates to a stripped-down version of its WebSphere software, which can run on small devices. The company also announced partnerships with software companies that are designed to help businesses better manage mobile devices employees use, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and cell phones.

IBM said it has updated its WebSphere Everyplace product to improve remote administration of mobile devices and amend tools for adding voice commands to existing business applications. WebSphere is IBM's Java-based server software for running custom-written business applications. WebSphere Everyplace runs on handheld devices, and it downloads and synchronizes information with Web-based servers. It can also automatically maintain network connections, as people roam between different types of wireless networks.

Overall, IBM executives said the company is in the early stages of executing on its pervasive computing strategy, which it articulated about five years ago. Under the company's long-term plan, IBM is building the software that will allow a whole range of devices to access network information.

"We are seeing the convergence of technologies and can begin to build complete solutions," said Jon Prial, vice president of pervasive computing at IBM. "There is inherent business value for enterprises and service providers delivering solutions, because there is money to be made."

For example, IBM is working with Hyundai to embed a voice-activated navigation system in cars, which will enable the car manufacturer and its partners to offer new services such as roadside assistance. Businesses can also save money with pervasive computing technologies by making mobile workers more efficient. Service technicians, for example, could use a handheld computer to tap into corporate information for scheduling or customer data.

On the partner front, Palm said Tuesday that it will embed IBM's Java software, called WebSphere Micro Edition, in its high-end Tungsten devices. A developer toolkit is available from Palm now, and the company expects to ship the Java "runtime" software with its Tungsten devices later this year. A version of that software that's optimized for the ARM processor is expected for release early next year, according to Palm.

IBM last week announced an extension to a deal with Research In Motion, the maker of the popular BlackBerry pagers, under which RIM will use WebSphere Everyplace to connect its pagers to corporate applications.

Other partners announced on Tuesday include software maker Blue Martini, which is embedding IBM's WebSphere MQ Everyplace software into its sales application so that sales agents can store and upload information with their mobile devices.

IBM has also signed on software providers, including SupportSoft, to embed its IBM WebSphere Device Management software in their applications to allow remote management of handheld computers and PDAs. Bitfone and X Point will also use the software to update software or to service mobile devices over cellular networks.

"These devices are getting more and more data content, and we're going to see a repeat of what we saw with PCs, where there was a lot done to address the total cost of ownership, with better administration and management," said Rod Adkins, IBM's general manager for pervasive computing.

On the voice front, IBM said it is adding support for the VoiceXML 2.0 standard to its WebSphere Voice Server.