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Hand-in-hand with The SCO Group’s rollout of Me Inc., reseller ASK Technologies Inc. has unveiled early engagements with a food products distributor, an insurance firm and a uniform manufacturer around SCO’s new smartphone-based mobile technology.

After dropping broad hints about an upcoming mobile product at last month’s SCO Forum, SCO made an official launch of the mobile messaging, scheduling and collaboration platform last week in two places: the DEMO conference in Las Vegas and a press briefing in New York.

“I was hoping to kind of give Microsoft a jolt with [the name] ‘Me Inc.,’” quipped SCO CEO Darl McBride, speaking at the Manhattan news conference.

Click here to read more about Me Inc.

Also during the event, Stephen F. Pirolli and John Fox of ASK, a reseller of systems based on Windows and AIX as well as SCO environments, said that one of its customers, Musco Food Corp., is about to move from pilot mode to implement Me Inc. across its whole sales team, for quicker and easier inventory and order management.

ASK’s other early customers for Me Inc. include Pennsylvania Lumbermen’s Mutual Insurance Co. and Flynn and O’Hara Uniforms.

Using Web services technology, Me Inc. gives business users a user-friendly, handheld front end for mobile communications with back-end systems over the Internet, according to SCO’s McBride.

“A [fast food restaurant] manager isn’t sitting in the back, browsing Web pages. He’s out front, flipping French fries,” McBride illustrated.

The mobile software will operate with SCO Unix and UnixWare, Microsoft Windows 2000/2003, or just about any other server OS, the CEO said.

The new product stems from technologies obtained through SCO’s buyout of Voltus Inc. in 2003, according to McBride.

McBride told journalists that, after the acquisition, VAR partners advised him that Voltus’ chief claim to fame, a Web services substrate, wouldn’t drive much new business in and of itself, since so many long-time customers were totally satisfied with SCO’s traditional “green screen” look-and-feel.

“But Voltus also had patented technology for mobile [computing]. It seemed like we could take this thing into the mobile environment,” McBride said.

Deployed right now on Palm Treo 650 smartphones, Me Inc. includes nine different component services. End users can access these services by touching graphical icons on their phones.

In a demonstration at the New York City press event, McBride showed how SCO has used Me Inc.’s People directory service internally to put together a smartphone-enabled employee directory, complete with photos and profiles of all staff members.

Another service, Shout, provides broadcast delivery of both text and .WAV voice messaging files. “Sent” messages can be accessed from just about any computing platform, including laptops, desktop PCs, and a variety of cell phones, he said.

The athletics department at the Utah State University, another early adopter, recently used Shout to inform people that a scheduled game versus Louisiana-based Nicholls State University was cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina.

The other main services components in Me Inc. include Action, for measurement, coordination and planning; Vote, for phone-based opinion polling; and Schedule, for group calendaring.

Also during the event, Tim Negris, SCO’s senior vice president of marketing, suggested that companies might use a fifth component, dubbed Hipcheck, to create mobile alert mechanisms for IT administrators around the status of network systems.

SCO is planning a developer’s kit for Me Inc., as well as versions for other handheld platforms such as Microsoft Windows Mobile, RIM Blackberry, and Symbian OS, McBride said.

Blake Stowell, a SCO spokesperson, said later that the Windows Mobile edition will be the first to be released, after the PalmOS version. The Hipcheck component will support administration of both Windows and Unix servers, according to Stowell.

The new Me Inc. Web services-enabled smartphone platform represents a big departure for SCO, a company with long roots in PC-based Unix.

Reiterating comments made at last month’s SCO Forum in Las Vegas, McBride said in New York last week that he’s glad SCO can spend more of its time on product innovation, now that its legal expenses around Linux-related IP lawsuits are “capping out.”

Some analysts cautioned, though, that in stepping into the mobile business application market, SCO is up against some very stiff competition.

“Microsoft is the most obvious, with its [underlying] .Net. But there are also many companies working on Java-based mobile solutions,” said Tony Iams, vice president and lead analyst, Systems Software and Virtualization, for Ideas International, during an interview at the event.

In an architectural sense, Me Inc. revolves around an edge processor with four software layers: mobile communications; a service engine for applications, security, directory, workflow, and management; the Web services substrate inherited from Voltus; and a data integration layer containing APIs.

Me Inc.’s edge processor sits between mobile devices and the customer’s back end infrastructure, communicating with mobile devices over cellular networks and with back-end servers via the Internet.

In another interview at this week’s New York press conference, ASK’s Pirolli said he first found out about the mobile technology in a casual conversation with one of SCO’s developers at the company’s OpenServer 6 launch at Yankee Stadium last June.

“Musco wanted a new inventory management application, and this technology seemed just perfect for that,” according to Pirolli.

ASK’s three customers for Me Inc. are in various stages of deployment. At Flynn & O’Hara, a maker of school uniforms, a pilot is imminent, Pirolli said.

In its own initial pilot, Musco, a distributor of Italian specialty foods, managed to cut order fulfillment time from three days to a single day, assuring next-day delivery and greatly reducing errors along the way, he said.

For the time being, at least, Musco is running Me Inc. in hosted mode on servers operated by SCO. The food distributor has been using SCO’s Unix-based server software for many years.

McBride predicted, however, that some larger customers might ultimately decide to take the Me Inc. solution inhouse for self-hosting.

The CEO also said that SCO was approached at DEMO by a number of cellular network carriers, who expressed interest in offering Me Inc. as a service to customers.

In Iams’ opinion, the feasibility of deals between SCO and cellular carriers will hinge partly on economics. Carriers are under competitive pressure to outdo each other on pricing.

“The level of investment would be important. SCO would need to make sure that it’s making enough money on the deal,” said the Ideas International analyst.

According to research by another analyst firm, the Radicati Group Inc., the worldwide mobile workforce will expand from 17 percent of corporate professionals in 2004 to 89 percent in 2007.