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3Com pumps up Palm platform with wireless stake

Teams up with wireless software firm to promote handhelds to business users.

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Networking giant 3Com is boosting its Palm software capabilities by taking a $6 million stake in little-known Aether Technologies. Aether develops software for connecting mobile computing devices to wireless networks, something 3Com is interested in using to enhance its already successful PalmPilot handheld computer. Sales of the PalmPilot (now renamed the plain old Palm) account for some ten per cent of 3Com's turnover, but the majority of these sales have been to home users. 3Com wants the Palm to taken seriously as a corporate computing device. Along with sales of USR modems, 3Com has found itself sitting on top of a considerable consumer business, having lost ground to Intel in sales of network interface cards to business users. It hopes to establish itself as a major corporate player in information appliances, and intends to use the Palm as a platform to do this -- going head-to-head with Windows CE and Epoc (Symbian's operating system, used in Psion handhelds). Taking an interest in Aether will enable 3Com to promote Aether's software and make sure that it always has ready access to it as the use of mobile devices in connection with business networks grows. It is understood that Aether first caught 3Com's eye when the networking vendor discovered that many of its Palm customers were also subscribing to data services managed and maintained by Aether. The latest version of the Palm (Palm VII) was unveiled earlier this month and can be connected to the Internet via wireless communications. ®

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