Palm and IBM have announced a deal that helps crystalize opposition to Microsoft's .Net framework.

Palm has licensed IBM technology to let enterprise-level Java applications run on its handhelds, the companies announced today.

Palm has licensed IBM's WME (WebSphere Micro Environment) Java run-time environment. The deal has been announced as the Java development community prepares for Sun's JavaOne conference, which begins tomorrow.

Joe DaMassa, vice president of marketing in IBM's pervasive computing unit said that expanding Java from servers and PCs to other kinds of devices should make developers more productive by letting them use their existing skills to write applications for a variety of platforms.

Tungsten first Palm will offer WME on all its Tungsten devices initially, and may extend these capabilities to its consumer-grade Zire products in future.

Applications written with any Java development tool will be able to run on the Tungstens through WME, but IBM's WebSphere Studio Device Developer will be optimized for creating Palm-based Java applications, the companies said. In addition, Palm will offer a free development toolkit that will work with WebSphere Studio Device Developer.

WME will become available as a download for Tungsten users in September, and probably will ship with new Tungsten devices starting early next year, Morgan said.

Pockets sewn up The deal could help create a counterpoint to Microsoft's PocketPC platform, which currently is way ahead of Palm in the corporate market, said Gartner analyst Todd Kort.

"Ease of development is one reason why PocketPC has been popular," Kort said. Also at play are the large customer bases of Microsoft's hardware partners - Dell, HP and Toshiba.

"Palm needs some credibility in the enterprise space, and IBM brings that to the table. Palm couldn't do this on their own," Kort said.

On a larger scale, IBM's overall WebSphere strategy seems to be a gambit against Microsoft .Net itself, he added. It may succeed if the millions of Java developers get excited about moves like the Palm, QNX and Nokia partnerships, he said.

"It's really hard to predict how this whole thing's going to come together," Kort said.