IBM Leads Developers to Their Own Devices

The Internet appliance market is still long on potential and short on realization. If IBM Corp. ( has its way, this may soon change. The computing industry giant recently took the wraps off of its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, software middleware that can dynamically translate Web information into a format readable by embedded appliances.

The middleware solves one of the foremost problems associated with would-be, Internet-ready appliances: bringing the complexity of Web content to the lean operating environments of most embedded appliances. "We're a society accustomed to getting information any time, any place, and in a way we can use," says Ed Harbour, director of connected e-business marketing at the IBM Software Group. "WebSphere Transcoding Publisher makes it possible to take today's Web content -- which has largely been designed for PCs -- and deliver it in a format appropriate for a variety of devices."

Many market research firms peg the Internet appliance market at under $1 billion annually. But most analysts believe that as Internet devices become more pervasive -- and as big names like IBM jump into the fray -- the market for embedded Internet-capable devices has the potential to explode.

GartnerGroup Inc. (, for example, projects that 70 percent of new cellular phones and 80 percent of personal digital assistants (PDAs) will include Internet capabilities by 2004.

Similarly, IDC ( ) expects the worldwide market for appliance servers to mushroom from $1 billion in 1999 to more than $11 billion in 2004.

IBM is primarily positioning its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher software for wireless implementations involving cellular telephones and PDAs, but the computer giant acknowledges that the software will likely be used in other embedded environments, such as in car browsers and pagers.

WebSphere Transcoding Publisher is built on a Java-based architecture that lets it convert data and applications written in Internet-standard markup languages -- such as HTML and XML -- to device-specific formats, such as Wireless Markup Language (WML). Because it can customize Internet content on a per-device basis, Big Blue maintains, applications don't have to be rewritten to display properly. WebSphere Transcoding Publisher can render them in a format that can be displayed on low-power, low-resolution appliances, such as cellular phones or pagers.

IBM also says WebSphere Transcoding Publisher can facilitate interoperability between Internet appliances and applications, such as its own WebSphere Application Server and MQSeries message queuing platform.

The Internet appliance market is ready to erupt sooner than most people think, says Martin Marshall, research director at Zona Research Inc. ( Consequently, Marshall maintains, IBM's posturing helps position the firm as a player in a potentially lucrative market segment. "Sometime next year there will be more wireless devices accessing Internet services than PCs, and IBM appears to be taking the necessary steps to become an important player in the game," he says.

Most importantly, IBM is sticking to its traditional strengths: designing interoperable middleware applications designed to run on robust server platforms such as Windows NT/2000, Solaris, Linux, and AIX. The company is not stepping on any toes in the burgeoning Internet appliance space, Marshall maintains. "These partnerships show where IBM is strong, in the middleware and connections to backend applications, and where it does not choose to compete, which is in the device areas already dominated by Palm, Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola," he concludes.