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Despite taking so many steps backwards and sideways for the platform, Sun Microsystems continues to be bullish about opportunities for Java on mobile phones.

To coincide with the ITU summit in Geneva, Sun has introduced new programs and software for telcos that it says will ease deployment of Java-based software and services. These include OTA (over the air) provisioning and delivery for carriers to introduce services like Vodafone's successful Live! offering, and a unified portal for its big enterprise customers to manage telecom services.

The latter brings IM and VoIP, "soft phone" services under one management umbrella. Both integrate with Sun's own software stack and in particular, its Directory Server. Sun announced that its Content Delivery Server, which runs on both x86 and Sparc Solaris, will allow Symbian, PocketPC and Palm applications to be hosted for download.

David Orain - Sun's business manager for telcos, says that developers can achieve certification "within days".

Sun isn't going it alone: the verification process is jointly run with handset OEMs Motorola, Nokia, Siemens and SonyEricsson using industry-standard test criteria; and the backend iForce program is the result of close collaboration with Lucent.

Craig Miller, group marketing manager for Sun's consumer and mobile offerings, thinks the US market is only just beginning to accept the phone as a data device, with the carriers experimenting with plans and prices.

"In European and Asia, it's a no brainer," he told us. "In the US there's still a lot of not trial-and-error, but experimenting with different users and models. The average person is only just beginning to understand this."

Developers have chaffed at Sun's decision - under pressure from its largest OEMs - to pare mobile Java to a basic set of MIDP specifications. Although this benefited developers who targeted low-cost mass market cellphones, it penalized smartphone developers, who need features such as a file system, and close integration with operator services such as SMS and MMS to build sophisticated applications. With rich smartphones such as Nokia's 3650 Symbian phone now available for free (with a new contract) in the United States, the market has taken a dramatic shift. And for developers, these features in Java can't come soon enough.

But Sun is naturally cock-a-hoop about the success of Vodafone Live!, the most successful of the new style data services in which the carrier dominates the branding. Carriers want users to see themselves as the platform, not Nokia, Symbian or Microsoft. So by positioning Java as a platform which doesn't look like a platform, it discreetly exploits Sun's existing carrier relatonships. Which for Sun is a major political win. ®

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