These apps help bring handhelds into the fold

These apps help bring handhelds into the fold

The lowdown

  • What are they? Handheld enterprise applications are programs capable of integrating Palm, Pocket PC and other handheld computers into the enterprise.


  • What do they do? Synchronization apps synchronize data residing on both mobile devices and enterprise servers. Middleware helps you design, customize and manage mobile computing activities. Messaging apps support real-time wireless, dial-up communications between handhelds and servers or desktop PCs.


  • When should they be used? Use them whenever enterprisewide communications between users of handheld computers and network servers is required.


  • When are they unnecessary? When only a few handheld users require occasional access to an organization's data.


  • Must-know info? The market for handheld devices and related software is exploding'sooner or later, you'll likely have to maintain these products within your computing architectures. Palm Inc. still leads the pack, but Microsoft Corp. and its party of Pocket PC vendors are gaining users.

  • PhatWare Corp.'s HPC Notes 3.07 synchronizes notes from Palm devices, right, or Pocket PCs running Windows CE 2.0 or later, far right, with Windows desktop PC systems, top. It's priced at $30 per user.

    Synchronization, messaging and wireless software help

    Handheld computers are serious data and communications tools in agencies as diverse as the Forest Service and the Navy. The next step for them is to be taken seriously as part of the enterprise.

    The market for handhelds is exploding. About 10 million units were sold last year, and analysts expect this figure to rise to 60 million by 2004.

    The majority are designed around the Palm OS, Windows CE or Pocket PC operating systems. Palm Inc.'s Palm series, Sony Corp.'s Clie series and Handspring Inc.'s Visor series are currently the most popular Palm OS units. But while Palm is still the most popular, its hold on the market is slipping amid the growing popularity of Pocket PCs.

    Pocket PCs resemble Palms in size and design, but they have more features, such as built-in voice recording, wireless and networking capabilities, and a set of Microsoft Corp. applications.

    The key question for IT managers isn't whether handheld computers have the potential to radically change the way your networks work'they do. The real question is how to merge them into the enterprise.

    Handheld users must become more than bit players in the overall enterprise computing effort if mobile computing is to work. There are hundreds of useful applications for handhelds, including word processors, spreadsheets, databases, personal information managers and contact managers, but most of them are targeted at individual, not enterprise, users. Enterprise requirements are different.

    This guide features three categories of mobile application software that will help your organization bring Palm, Pocket PC or other handheld devices into the enterprise fold:

  • Synchronization software, designed to synchronize data residing on both mobile devices and enterprise servers

  • Middleware designed to help organizations develop, customize and manage mobile computing activities

  • Messaging software for wireless, dial-up communications between handhelds and servers or desktop PCs.

    The list of products within each of the above categories is not inclusive, and there is often some degree of cross-functionality between the applications listed'such as middleware programs with strong synchronization features.

    Synchronization software. Most synchronization software resides on servers and lets mobile handheld users work with data stored on a network. When the data is changed on the handheld or on the server, the software makes changes in the data on the server or handheld, or both.

    The store-and-forward architecture of the most advanced synchronization applications lets some of data be stored on the mobile devices, enabling data to be entered while offline, and synchronized with the server when connections are renewed. Connection times and related expenses are thus minimized.

    The best synchronization software supports multiple handheld devices, OSes and databases, as well as multiple data types used by different databases. Security features help discourage intruders from changing data.

    Synchrologic Inc.'s iMobile Data Synchronization 4.1 platform is a server-based store-and-forward platform that synchronizes data between most enterprise databases and handhelds, either online or offline. Extended Systems Inc.'s XTNDConnect Server Professional Edition 2.6.1 was developed on a similar architecture and contains a scheduling add-on for Pocket PCs.

    The version of Microsoft's ActiveSync 3.5 that comes bundled with Pocket PC 2002 devices is client-based software used to synchronize Microsoft Outlook data between Pocket PCs and desktops. But a server version of ActiveSync is bundled with the new Microsoft Mobile Information Server 2002, which falls under the category of middleware.

    Middleware. This is, by definition, an ambiguous category. In this case, it is core software that brings wireless functionality to both mobile and enterprise platforms, but many middleware products also include related synchronization and development features.

    For example, Vaultus Inc.'s customizable VMP 2.0 platform provides a mobile development framework for user authentication, data synchronization, network optimization and security. Brience Inc.'s Brience 3.0 is a complete suite of middleware.

    Messaging. Messaging software for handhelds generally isn't as advanced or complex as synchronization or middleware apps, but it doesn't have to be.

    Messaging software can consist of fully developed client-server or less sophisticated client applications that help users of handheld devices communicate with enterprise servers or desktops to upload and download e-mail, files, voice messages and faxes.

    Some work with dial-up modems attached to the handheld; others work via wireless fidelity or even Bluetooth connections. Still others are designed to handle serial/parallel port or Universal Serial Bus connections in wired environments. Unlike synchronization software, most handheld messaging works in real time'that is, the handhelds must be directly connected to the information source at the other end.

    Copies of most of the messaging programs listed here and many others'including some excellent contact managers, spreadsheets, databases and word processors'can be downloaded at reasonable prices from many online software outlets.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@gte.net.
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