A Better Handhold

Riverbed Technologies of Vienna plans to announce today a deal with Palm Computing Inc., strengthening its position in the increasingly crowded race to deliver hand-held electronic devices.

Riverbed has developed technology, geared toward businesspeople, that allows mobile workers to synchronize data with corporate databases and World Wide Web applications without using a desktop connection.

"Palm recognized over a year ago that it would be important to branch out beyond consumer uses," said Larry Roshfeld, vice president of product marketing for Riverbed. "This is a different business than pushing out sports scores and horoscopes."

First, said Roshfeld, Palm will license Riverbed's ScoutSync technology, calling it the Palm HotSync server. Later next year the two companies will jointly release a newer version, he said. Terms of the four-year agreement were not disclosed, although Roshfeld said Palm will pay Riverbed a "substantial" upfront fee plus royalties.

This is Riverbed's biggest deal yet, but it's not playing any favorites. The technology also supports Microsoft's Windows CE, Palm's competitor.

Just last week, Riverbed also scored in the venture funding arena, getting $11.8 million in its second round, led by Mayfield Fund of Menlo Park, Calif. FBR Technology Venture Partners LP of Arlington and Columbia Capital LLC of Alexandria, both earlier investors in the company, also contributed to this infusion.

Riverbed also plans to announce today a partnership with Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, in which the companies will jointly develop hand-held wireless technology.

-- Shannon Henry (henrys@washpost.com)

Turning the Tables

Patrick Nettles says he's a buyer.

That surprised, and perturbed, Wall Street last week.

Nettles, CEO of Linthicum telecommunications company Ciena Corp., was at the Telecom 99 industry trade show in Geneva, and he let out that he doesn't see Ciena as a takeover target anymore. In fact, according to Dow Jones News Service, he thinks Ciena can go out and buy some companies.

Last year, Ciena's planned merger with Tellabs Inc. of Chicago fell apart, prompting most market watchers to think it was a matter of time before Ciena was sold at fire-sale prices.

In any case, the news that Ciena was seeking deals -- perhaps (gasp) stock-diluting deals -- sent the price of shares down 11 percent Thursday.

-- Terence O'Hara (oharat@washpost.com)

$574,545,000

From the "how bad can it get" files, that is the amount of the accumulated deficit (or how much liabilities exceed assets) of Hechinger Co. as of July 30. Hechinger has been a private company for several years, so no matter how much bad news you read about the home improvement retailer, hard numbers have been hard to come by. All that changed with the company's Chapter 11 filing in September, and now Hechinger must bare all. The company's July operating report to the court is not a pretty picture. Most of Hechinger's negative net worth is attributable not to the company's debt load, but to simple operating losses piled up over time. In July alone, Hechinger lost $22 million.

DID YOU HEAR? . . .

"I'm like everyone else: I'm up in the air."

-- Mobile Corp. employee Robert Korman on company employees waiting to learn their fate after the impending merger with Exxon Corp.