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Networking in the Palm of Your Hand

Palm has been a player in the mobile enterprise market for some time, and Palm's developer network has grown to include heavyweights such as Computer Associates, IBM, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Sun Microsystems. This no doubt contributes to Palm's continued lead in enterprise market share, with 60 percent of companies standardizing on Palm as their mobile device platform, according to an April survey by IDC. With more than 13,000 commercial applications for the Palm OS, virtually any solution required can be obtained. Still, the Palm OS is starting to show its age. The slow Motorola DragonBall processors used by Palm have been pushed as far as possible, and Pocket PC now includes more integrated applications than are in the Palm OS 4. Market share for Palm has decreased, and unless we see major changes to the Palm platform it will continue to do so.

Palm released a new Palm OS in June that is seen as a major advancement to the platform. Noted features include more horsepower for Palm devices, with support for faster ARM processors, currently used by Pocket PC devices. Despite the change in processing architecture, programs that strictly adhere to proper coding for Palm OS 4 should run on Palm OS 5 using a built-in emulator. Performance for emulated programs should be equal to or exceed that of Palm OS 4.

Palm has addressed the increasing demand for data security by providing native support for 128-bit encryption using RSA's RC4 as well as 128-bit SSL encryption for data communication. Palm will also allow for access restrictions, including passwords, biometric verification and smartcards. Native support for 802.11b has been added to the existing wireless support. Multimedia enhancements include increasing the screen resolution to 320 by 320 and adding 16-bit audio.

Linux-based devices are harder to evaluate than devices based on Palm or Microsoft. Sharp dominates, with its Zaurus SL-5000, though there are other players in the Linux PDA market. Primarily, Linux devices use ARM processors, but there are exceptions, such as Empower Technologies' PowerPlay V. Many of the Linux devices lack maturity, a major problem for enterprise customers. but Linux's wealth of applications is appealing to enterprises, the questions linger: Which applications will successfully port to a PDA architecture? How many back-end applications--such as device management and PIM (personal information management) synchronization--will Linux PDAs support? Finally, the multiple distributions of Linux with different features make comparisons more difficult. Until proven enterprise application support exists for Linux PDAs, they will remain a poor choice for the corporate environment.

As important as OS features is data synchronization. Both Microsoft ActiveSync and Palm HotSync programs can use serial, USB, Ethernet, 802.11b and other media to synchronize data. However, the similarities between the two end there. ActiveSync automatically detects a connection between the host PC and the PDA, and synchronizes data automatically. If the connection is established and a user changes information in Outlook, the PDA will receive the updated data automatically. ActiveSync synchronizes data only from the PIM portion of the PDA (Outlook, My Documents and so on). This means that data can be lost despite having been synchronized.

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