PalmPilot seeks greater role in fed tasks

Palm Computing Inc., maker of the PalmPilot family of personal digital assistants, has launched an initiative to convince federal buyers that the devices have the ability to go beyond keeping dates and organizing personal information.

3Com Corp., the parent company of Palm Computing, is touting relationships it formed recently with several big information technology companies, including Computer Associates International Inc., Oracle Corp., Remedy Corp. and Sybase Inc., to develop a range of solutions that will enhance the functionality of the PalmPilot.

"Right now you can walk into any government agency and find PalmPilots," said John Inkley, federal sales manager for Palm Computing. "But they primarily use them as personal information managers (PIMs)."

The company believes that the additional functionality will expand the market for PalmPilot applications beyond the PIM.

Applications that provide real-time remote access to databases and wireless data synchronization are expected to result from the new alliances, 3Com officials said. Those applications also will better position the PalmPilot to compete against handheld devices that run on competing operating systems from Microsoft Corp. and Symbol Technologies Inc.

Synchronization software is key because it enables the PalmPilot to transform itself into a device that is effective for enterprise productivity, according to an International Data Corp. report on handheld devices, issued in March. But business productivity software tools tailored to an agency's needs would be the real killer apps, according to IDC.

Palm Computing has signed up about 1,700 developers to work on those types of programs, with the goal of selling the PalmPilot as enterprise equipment.

But handheld devices will bring new challenges as they take a larger role in agencies, said Diana Hwang, a research manager at IDC.

"The federal IS department managers will go through what many in the industry have to deal with: How does one manage the influx of these devices? How does the IS manager provide security for the mobile products? How does the device integrate into our enterprise?" Hwang said.

"It is difficult for IS managers to cope with some of these issues since these products have been purchased through the back door - meaning that individual buyers are bringing them into the corporate enterprise and expecting IS managers to support the mobile device," she said.

New Members of PalmPilot Family

Palm Computing's initiative follows two additions to the PalmPilot family this year: the Palm IIIx and Palm V, both sporting a new microprocessor, the latest version of the Palm operating system and a clearer monochrome screen. These PalmPilots sell for $299 to $449 through resellers and the Portable-2 indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, Inkley said.

A third addition, the Palm VII, begins selling at CompUSA stores this week in New York only. It will have a built-in wireless modem that can be used to access stripped-down information from about 22 popular World Wide Web sites.

PalmPilots are in the hands of a lot of different types of federal workers, from Interior Department employees who use them in the field to Department of Veterans Affairs hospital employees who use them when interviewing patients, Inkley said.

The Army has made one of the firmest commitments of any agency to the Palm-

Pilot platform. The Army is in the middle of installing PalmPilots at six standard dining facilities, which are putting the devices on the front line of food service.

As part of the FS2000 food management system, the PalmPilots will capture data from soldiers when their ID cards are swiped and feed that data into a Microsoft Windows NT server, which will help the dining facility manager keep a head count and make sure that he is feeding only those soldiers entitled to eat there.

"In the past, when a soldier came through a dining facility, the soldier had to sign a clipboard," said Jatinder Singh, manager of the mobile computing division at Impact Innovations Government Group, Columbia, Md., which designed the FS2000 food management system.

There are applications in the government for PalmPilot, but its manageability is problematic, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group. Also, many vertical applications for the handheld computer, such as inspections, inventories and other programs, have been developed for Windows CE, Microsoft's operating system for handheld devices, Dulaney said.


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