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IBM jumps into wireless pool

Big Blue's new software will translate existing information and images on Web sites into a format readable by handheld devices.

    IBM is carving out its slice of the wireless pie.

    IBM today unveiled new software that translates existing information and images on Web sites into a format readable by handheld devices, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, and by future technology, such as Web browsers in cars.

    Big Blue joins a raft of software firms hoping to provide Internet service providers, telecommunications carriers, and Internet-based businesses with the underlying technology they need to offer Web content--originally intended for display on PCs and laptops--to users of increasingly popular wireless devices, including cell phones and personal digital assistants.

    Oracle last fall shipped a set of wireless technologies called Portal-to-Go, while the Sun-Netscape Alliance recently announced plans to release technology next month. Nokia and BEA recently partnered to offer wireless software, while Microsoft has announced several initiatives to tackle the market.

    IBM's software, called the WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, is more comprehensive and offers more features than its competitors, analysts say. IBM plans to ship the software next month.

    While Oracle's technology supports XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for exchanging data, IBM's technology can support more types of data formats--including XML and HTML, the language used to create Web sites--and images, said analyst Anne Thomas Manes of the Patricia Seybold Group.

    But Oracle executives claim that its Portal-to-Go software can do everything IBM says its software can do, including support for all types of content, such as HTML and images.

    IBM is simply playing catch up, said Denise Lahey, chief executive of OracleMobile.com, Oracle's new wireless company. "IBM's seen the writing on the wall. We've been shipping since November, and their announcement is the same exact product as Portal-to-Go."

    IBM executives said its Transcoding Publisher works with IBM's application server software, which processes transactions for e-commerce Web sites. When a person with an Internet-enabled handheld device sends a Web page request to a server, the application gathers the content and sends it to Transcoding Publisher, which converts the content into a format that the device can read.

    For example, if a driver requests that a street map be sent to his car-based Web browser, the Transcoding Publisher can take a map originally designed for a PC-based browser and resize it to fit the screen of the mobile device, Manes said.

    Since IBM's software is linked to the company's application server software, it can perform dual roles: delivering wireless content and integrating business systems to process transactions, said Giga Information Group analyst Carl Zetie.

    "What makes IBM's software different is the technology is pretty generic," he said.

    Because the technology can convert data from one form to another, companies can use it to help integrate business software that was never meant to communicate and work together, such as mainframe software and human resources and financial applications, Zetie said.

    "Say you're getting customer data out of an SAP application and want to transform it to another application that also uses customer data," he said. "This can be part of your application integration solution."

    Manes said that because IBM's software translates data from one form to another, it can also be used by businesses to help them conduct trades online with other businesses.

    IBM executives said the Transcoding Publisher can run as a Java servlet, a small application written in the Java programming language that runs on the server.

    Pricing for the new software has not been announced.