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Oracle, Novell, Microsoft enhance mobile e-mail access

May 16, 2001

This week, three major high tech companies announced technology to give workers the ability to access corporate e-mail from a wireless device.

Despite promises by many high tech infrastructure providers over the last year that they had the technology to provide access to mission critical databases from remote devices, it appears that up until now the ability to connect to the most common corporate application - e-mail - has eluded many technology providers.

Oracle will release a package of products and services Wednesday designed to offer a speedy and affordable method for outfitting enterprise customers with access to corporate e-mail and directories on wireless devices.

Oracle said it will bundle its software products, consulting services from 10 partner firms and product support into a fixed-price package - dubbed FastForward Mobile E-mail and Corporate Directory - that customers can purchase to roll out wireless computing on their networks. Implementation of the wireless platform is expected to take as few as 15 days and will cost $125,000 for 500 universal power units - roughly the size of a single server.

"Then you can scale up from there," said Jacob Christfort, chief technology officer and vice president of product development for Oracle's mobile division.

While the Oracle 9i Application Server Wireless Edition, which runs the backbone for Oracle's mobile computing applications, has been on the market since 1999, the company has been slow to market the platform to small and medium-sized corporate customers. Currently, Oracle's major customers include Sprint PCS, which runs the wireless server platform to offer wireless Web to its customers, and several telecommunication providers in Europe, Asia and South America.

But with a number of competitors dialing into the same market, including IBM with its WebSphere products and Microsoft with the Mobile Information Server, business customers have become sought-after.

"We think the time has come to broaden out to medium to large enterprises," Christfort said. "To do that we've created a very predictable, easy-to-start-with option."

The FastForward program is aimed at signing up corporate customers that have been slow to adopt a wireless platform. As corporate information technology spending slows in the current market downturn, the adoption rate for wireless services has been slow going, analysts say. Oracle's answer to that is an all-in-one package that gives customers fast access to the most simple entrant into the wireless market - corporate e-mail.

Using Oracle's wireless server software, customers can already access sales force automation and customer resource management applications from wireless devices such as Palm handhelds, but few customers have yet to buy into those specialized programs. Offering access to corporate e-mail accounts and directories will attract a wider range of customers, Oracle said.

"Customers can expand from there, but they can justify their investment with this," Christfort said.

A number of major technology consulting firms will offer their services as part of the package, including Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, and Hewlett-Packard in Europe and Mobilesoft in Asia. Oracle said 10 companies around the world have signed on in time for the release.

For its part, Novell announced this week an enhancement to its GroupWise 6 groupware application that will allow Palm VII users to access their e-mail using the Palm Web-clipping technology. The service will be available for download next month.

Last month, Novell's GroupWise 6 application suite began shipping with a wireless server component for WAP phones, Pocket PC, RIM and most Palm devices. The Palm VII component, however, was unavailable at that time according to Paul Turner, director of product management for collaboration services at Novell in Provo, Utah.

The company is also targeting a class of corporate users it calls deskless workers, whose only access to company e-mail is through wireless devices. Novell created a separate licensing structure for deskless workers, said Turner, and recently granted a large Midwestern retail chain approximately 50,000 wireless licenses for its store clerks and store managers, as well as licensing 30,000 mobile workers for a large airline. The mobile-only license is set at a quarter of the usual $130 per user licensing fee for GroupWise for desktops, said Turner.

"Enabling deskless workers expands a company's collaboration zone and gives stores the ability to communicate with each other," said Turner.

One industry analyst believes e-mail must be deployed first before any company tries to expand its corporate infrastructure to remote workers.

"E-mail is the conduit for geographically dispersed teams to work together," said Tim Scannell, at Mobile Insights in Mountain View, Calif.

Microsoft also made a middleware mobile play this week, announcing more details on its Mobile Information Server (MIS) technology that will ship next month. MIS will give corporate users access to mail, calendar, contacts and tasks via Outlook Mobile Access, the first off-the-shelf application for MIS.

Pricing will be announced next month.

Matt Berger is a San Francisco-based correspondent for the IDG News Service. InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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