Waking Up to Java

— April 10, 2007

Something's brewing with Java, and we don't mean the double-roasted variety. Java ME is a software platform that bridges the Babel of mobile devices. "Developers can write applications to the Java platform and leverage them across a wide range of handsets," said John Muhlner, group manager of Java ME product marketing at Sun Microsystems. He noted that 80 percent of handsets shipped include the Java platform, providing a commonality that greatly simplifies application development.

A new email service called Flurry, developed by a San Francisco start-up, exemplifies Java's position as the mobile lingua franca. "We are aiming to provide the BlackBerry experience on any cell phone, any carrier, any email provider," said Gabriel Vanrenen, Flurry CTO and co-founder. Though Flurry doesn't target the enterprise specifically (it doesn't offer push email), Vanrenen noted that companies could use it to avoid the costs of issuing standardized mobile email devices; Flurry will run on whatever people already have. "Java is the platform that's on every phone model out there," said Vanrenen. "It's what allowed us to develop a single application for hundreds of different phones."

While Java ME is the mighty mite of mobile, Java EE (enterprise edition) and SE (standard edition) have solid toeholds in desktop computing, and that means synergies for the enterprise, according to Muhlner. "Being able to easily extend your enterprise applications into the mobile space is a huge benefit to companies," said Muhlner, citing field force and order management as areas where such porting is practical.

In November, Sun took the unorthodox step of issuing its Java implementation under the GPL open source license. "Why? One of the primary reasons is to engage developers," said Muhlner. "Their ability to add to the platform enhances it considerably."

Sun also hopes open sourcing will curtail pernicious platform fragmentation, which reduces compatibility as developers introduce proprietary variations. "You'll have more handset manufacturers using that same [open source] code, so there will be less variance in the platform and reduced fragmentation," said Kevin Strohmeyer, group marketing manager of the Client Systems group at Sun Microsystems.

Going forward, Java ME is set to grow in step with increasing handset capabilities. Muhlner said a new platform specification called Mobile Services Architecture will greatly expand Java's mobile capabilities. "Whether it be graphics, location-based services or personal information management, all these capabilities will start to be standard on the Java platform, providing more advanced and compelling applications for both the mobile and enterprise spaces," he said.

Which makes Java appear as useful for the mobile enterprise as its
liquid namesake.
--Peter M. Ferenczi

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