Handspring opened for business in Europe yesterday, launching an e-commerce Web site and naming local distributors to sell its Visor palm-top.

The company, founded by former employees of 3Com's Palm handheld computer subsidiary, will officially launch the Visor in the UK on Thursday, May 4.

Handspring began selling localized versions of its PalmOS-based Visor handheld computers from a bilingual English-German Web site yesterday, said CEO Donna Dubinsky. The basic Handspring package retails for £169 on the e-retail site.

The Visor is priced in 15 local currencies

Ready to go Retail sales will begin shortly through Dixons in the UK and Mediamarkt in Germany, and through mail-order companies Computer Warehouse and Microwarehouse, Dubinsky said.

Handspring's European sales site is operated by Modus Media in the Netherlands. One currency notably absent from the list is the French franc. "I'm told there are legal restrictions there," Dubinsky said.

France's Toubon law, introduced by Culture Minister Jacques Toubon in 1994, requires vendors to use the French language in the publicity materials and instruction manuals of all goods sold in France.

"We can't aggressively pursue commercialization there till we have a French language version," Dubinsky said. A French version of the Visor would not be available until later this year, she said, and the company had yet to find a distributor in France.

"I think it's reached a nice balance," she said of Europe's common market, contrasting Handspring's single European supply centre near Amsterdam, with her experience working at Apple's Claris subsidiary, when she had to set up separate customer service and order fulfillment operations in every European country. "But they are different countries too. The common market doesn't make multiple languages go away - the fact that we have markets with different tastes is great."