IBM: The Switzerland of wireless?

IBM announces wireless partnerships, back-end software technology and e-business services designed to work with all operating systems.

It's no secret that IBM Corp. wants to be the Switzerland of the OS world.

The company used Paris as its venue to further that message Monday, announcing wireless partnerships, supporting back-end software technology and related e-business services designed to work across IBM- and non-IBM operating systems alike.

"IBM's bringing its strengths in the data and transaction worlds to the pervasive world," said Jonathan Prial, director of marketing for IBM's Pervasive Computing division. "We're doing what we do best."

Prial is an apt choice to deliver IBM's OS-agnostic message, as he, until recently, headed up IBM's cross-divisional Linux marketing effort.

IBM (IBM) debuted on Monday, March 13, its WebSphere Everyplace Suite -- back-end software aimed at providing cross-platform services for all kinds of wireless devices.

The WebSphere Everyplace product is available immediately on a "special bid" basis, the company said, and will be generally available on AIX 4.3.3 and Solaris 7.0 in the third calendar quarter of this year. IBM plans to add Linux and Windows 2000 support for the suite, officials said, but they did not offer any estimated delivery dates.

On the device side, IBM is supporting nearly every operating system, including Microsoft's Windows CE and Palm Inc.'s Palm OS, as well as embedded operating environments such as QNX, embedded Linux and others.

The WebSphere Everyplace suite bundles various IBM middleware products into a "pervasive veneer," in Prial's words, that sits between a Web application server and various devices, ranging from cell phones to PDAs. The suite includes components such as IBM's transcoding software that translates data into a format that can be read on non-PC devices. It also includes support for Tivoli's Subscription Manager, a product that lets users track and manage devices.

"Until now, all these kinds of [back-end] solutions have been hand-crafted," Prial said. "We need to make sure it's as transparent as possible" to spur widespread adoption.

To encourage even wider acceptance and usage, IBM is attempting to seed the wireless market with three "starter pack" products, comprised of WebSphere Everyplace coupled with related services that IBM Global Services is providing. The packages are in the finance, retail and travel verticals. In the retail space, for instance, IBM Global has created a prototype application that will let consumers order groceries from their handheld devices.

Prial emphasized that IBM isn't trying to compete with potential customers. "We're still the plumbers. We don't want to compete with our partners," he said.

To prove its point, IBM reiterated and elaborated on wireless partnerships it has put in place with Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson Inc., Intel Corp., Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp., Palm and Symbian.