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Palm aims software at businesses

The handheld maker says it is working with several companies to bring Java support, a new browser and a VPN client to its new Palm OS 5.

PalmSource this week will beef up its selection of software for businesses.

The division of Palm, which creates the software and operating system that go inside Palm handhelds, says it is working with several companies to bring Java support, a new browser and a virtual private networking (VPN) client to its new Palm OS 5. PalmSource sees the software as essential to getting a better foothold among business customers.

The new VPN software, a version of SafeNet's SoftRemotePDA, allows the handheld to create a secure connection with a server inside a corporate network, which would help to protect sensitive data. Palm has been striving to give its products greater appeal to corporations, but with limited success.

Meanwhile, PalmSource says it's working with Access Systems America on the ASA NetFront browser, which will become the basis for the Palm OS 5 Web browser. In addition, the company will make use of Insignia's Mobile Foundation, a Java Virtual Machine, or software engine, that will let applications written in the Java language run on the Palm operating system.

In an interview, PalmSource CEO David Nagel said the company wanted to offer these features to all its licensees, but said it didn't include things like VPN in the OS because the feature is not needed for every device.

Nagel said the key benefit of OS 5-based handhelds will be the improved performance.

"Most applications will run faster...in some cases a lot faster," Nagel said. Some things, like Java support, were largely unworkable before, he said.

Palm recently shipped OS 5 to its licensees, and devices running the new operating system are expected this fall. Separately, Palm said Wednesday that it is adding graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies to a program that certifies chips for use with the Palm OS.

Palm, which on Tuesday reported a loss of 5 cents per share for its fourth quarter, has been moving closer to separating its PalmSource software division from its hardware unit. To that end, it has named Todd Bradley, president of the hardware division, to be that group's CEO, and has created a separate board for the PalmSource group.

Nagel said Palm applied earlier this month to have the IRS declare a spinoff of PalmSource to be a tax-free event. With the approval process expected to take six to nine months, Nagel said, the company is targeting New Year's or just after for the final split of Palm's operating system and hardware businesses.

News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.