In a bid to boost the uptake of its palm computing platform in the mobile information appliance market, 3Com Corp yesterday announced that it has acquired Montpellier, France-based Smartcode Technologie in a cash deal worth $17.5m. Under the agreement, all Smartcode’s 33 employees will transfer to 3Com and Smartcode’s president and CEO, Alain Molinie, will become general manager of a new group, to be called Palm Computing Platform Europe. Molinie will report to Mark Bercow, VP of strategic alliances and platform development at Palm Computing. Smartcode develops applications for all types of mobile handheld appliances, including cellular phones, as well as concentrating on core operating system software to improve the wireless capabilities of handheld devices. It’s the latter which Palm Computing is most interested in said Mike Dolbec, VP of business development at 3Com. The aim, he said, is to make it easier for users to operate in a wireless environment, whether they’re downloading information from the internet or logging on to their corporate server to access data. At the moment, the process involves users having to remember lots of different internet service provider numbers and passwords, which is time consuming and fiddly. And the wireless service is based on analog networks, which can often be slow and unreliable. Consequently, most people still use their palm and other handheld devices as glorified organizers, Dolbec said. But he said future iterations of the palm platform will enable users to connect to wireless networks without having to go through those complicated procedures. Today people are familiar with the palm device that functions primarily as an organizer, Dolbec said, but we want to extend the platform into the communicator market. In order to do that we need the right components in the operating system. As an example, he said users will be able to keep their cellphones in their bags and still be able to link to the internet through infrared or via the Bluetooth standard by clicking on an icon on the handheld’s screen. There will be no need to open up programs and enter ISP numbers. 3Com said Smartcode’s technology will appear in a number of different product types, all licensed through 3Com; in Palm relationships with cellphone manufacturers; and with vendors trying to develop new wireless devices such as smartphones, messaging devices and data communicators. Also under the agreement, whereby Smartcode previously sold its application software to both palm and Windows CE manufacturers, Dolbec said 3Com would encourage those vendors to switch to manufacturing Palm OS-based devices instead. Announcements of devices using the technology are expected quite soon, Dolbec added.