Kessler: Palm's biz push paying off

At PalmSource, Palm exec says company's PDAs have already made significant inroads into the corporate marketplace, with more initiatives on the way

Much of the focus at this week's PalmSource developers conference has been about increasing Palm's influence in the corporate marketplace. But in the opinion of Alan Kessler, Palm's chief operating officer, the PDA leader may have already established its beachhead in this arena.

According to Kessler -- whose keynote speech Wednesday morning kicked off the second day of this third annual PalmSource -- 40 percent of Palm devices are paid for or reimbursed by businesses, and 80 percent of Palm devices are already synchronised at work.

And of the Fortune 500 businesses, more than 120 have already standardised on Palm.

"Today we're debunking a lot of myths about our applications in the enterprise market," said Gabriel Acosta-Lopez, a Palm vice president who introduced Kessler to the audience. "We're going to set the record straight about what this platform is about."

But that isn't going to stop Palm from continuing its efforts to woo big business.

Kessler introduced a new member of the Palm executive team, Jerry Jalaba, who becomes a vice president of enterprise.

Jalaba teased the audience of developers with some pre-announcements to suit their needs.

In an effort to increase the number of development tools, AppForge Inc. and Palm announced on Wednesday a new tool that will allow the 6-million-plus Visual Basic developers to develop for the Palm platform.

Along those lines, Sun Microsystems also Wednesday announced that the 2.5 million developers using Java 2 Micro Edition will be able to work toward the Palm platform as well.

And in an effort to build a sense of community among developers and help them to work together, Palm announced its Solutions Market Place, a Web-based front end that is a database of applications showing the projects on which developers are working.

Developers will get a description of what others are working on as well as information on how to contact them.

"This evangelises to end users what's available from developers," said Jalaba.

Palm is loading the site database and it will be available on the company's Web site in January or February, officials said.

More details regarding the new beta of 4.0 were also revealed. The final version of version 4.0 is expected in the first half of next year.

The final version of the interface, currently available in beta, will be rolled out in its final form no later than 15 February, and will be dynamically upgraded to beta users, company officials said.

Version 5.0 and implementation of ARM-based processors are expected in 2002.

Analysts are perky about Palm's prospects.

"We also think that it is becoming clear with this holiday season that Palm's platform has broad appeal with strength in the youth market [m100], the consumer market and in enterprise [150 of the Fortune 500 have standardised Palm]," wrote Gillian Munson, an analyst for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, in a report on Wednesday.

"We expect Palm to report solid FQ2 results on 20 December. We are looking for revenue of $522m [up 102 percent year-to-year] and earnings per share of $0.03."

In a mid-afternoon session representatives from Palm OS licensees in the handheld market, Handspring and Sony, made it clear that they were committed to the Palm OS and were not looking to compete with one another.

"We are supportive of the Palm OS and we don't see any applications on the horizon that we can't do with the Palm OS," said Handspring chief product officer Jeff Hawkins.

Hawkins went on to say that he believed that as the PDA market matured the product lines from the different manufacturers would diverge further.

Keiji Kimura, president of Sony's Information Technology Company, agreed with Hawkins and clearly stated the company's intention of focusing on consumer users.

"We can expand the handheld market by shifting the focus to the consumer and their lifestyles," said Kimura.

On a lighter note, supermodel Claudia Schiffer added a bit of glamour to the conference this week by using the event to announce that her Palm Vx Claudia Schiffer Edition is now available on her Web site.

Schiffer admitted that Palms are still not a popular accessory with most fashion models. But she said she thinks her sleek, aqua Palm -- which includes a nutrition application -- will appeal to women all over the world.

"I hope by offering this colour to women and also having the software that's women-oriented...that hopefully they'll have fun buying one and playing around with it."

Michael Kanellos and Ian Fried contributed to this report.

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