Motorola looks to accelerate moves to open source Java
Steps offer promise of unified J2ME environment
As Sun's new CEO, former software chief Jonathan Schwartz, settles into his new role, it can be expected that the company's key software asset, Java, will take centre stage.
Already, Schwartz has promised to put more of Java into the open source process, something that could solidify the software platform's position as the dominant download and development system for mobile platforms. However, the mobile programmer community remains ambivalent about whether open source will boost J2ME innovations or increase its greatest weakness, fragmentation between different implementations.
Whatever the merits of openness, the handset vendors are determined to promote it, even ahead of the Sun agenda, and Motorola is promising open source Java tools and functionality this year as part of its new Motodev initiative.
Nokia, up till now the greatest supporter of mobile Java - partly as an element of its battle with Microsoft and Windows Mobile - is also stepping up its moves toencourage developers and has also announced new Java technology that enhances the ability to support service oriented architectures, and integration with legacy applications, on handsets.
But creating a uniform platform remains the major challenge for J2ME, and its greatest critical success factor.
One of the signal failures of Scott McNealy's leadership of Sun Microsystems must surely be the failure to leverage the key asset of Java technology to create a strong commercial model. While IBM and a host of smaller players have cashed in on Java, Sun has suffered from its ambivalence about how open to make the software platform, and the weakness of many of its products in the marketplace.
In the mobile market, where Java J2ME has built an almost unassailable position as the key software environment for high end handsets, Sun has been even more strongly sidelined by vendors and operators, from Nokia to Vodafone, that have driven the process.
The accession to the Sun CEO role last month of Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's most senior software executive, promised a more creative strategy on Java, and the new chief has not disappointed so far, making the strongest promises so far to put most of Java into the open source process (though no firm timescales have emerged). Seizing the opportunity, the handset giants are stepping up their own efforts to push the J2ME agenda forward.
Motorola is leaping ahead of Sun in embracing open source Java, claiming this will speed development time for new applications and drive innovation.
The main weakness of J2ME has been its fragmentation, since slightly different approaches have been adopted by each handset architecture, and Motorola believes an open source approach will help counter this by uniting the developer community.
Motorola Mobile Devices senior director and chief architect Mark Van den Brinksaid: "We can make the platform more unified and reduce fragmentation in the market...Motorola hopes to accelerate that exchange and contribute to the open mobile development effort by providing a catalyst for greater mobile adoption."
The company has kicked off its effort by launching opensource. motorola.com, a new resource aimed at sharing source code and original open source projects, as well as ideas and information with open source developers globally.
The site features source code, including kernel and drivers, for Motorola's Linux-based devices. Java test frameworks and sample test cases also are featured and the phone giant plans to add code, documents and specifications for Motorola-led Java Specification Requests (JSRs), such as MIDP 3.0 (Mobile Information Device Profile).
This is part of the newly launched Motodev program, designed to catch up with Nokia’s recent efforts to encourage developers to its platforms and create a programmer community with the same potential scope as Microsoft’s in Windows/.Net.
Meanwhile, Nokia announced the availability of new Java technology for handsets, introduced in the Java Community Process, the semi-open structure that introduces new functions to the Java platforms.
The latest introduction allows developers to use service oriented architectures, which should ease integration with other mobile and non-mobile applications, using web services, and support plug and play components that can be easily installed and managed on the handset, as required.
The push for open source Java has not been uniform in the mobile community, however, with some developers believing it will increase rather than mitigate the fragmentation problem. Sun has been under increasing pressure for at least three years from other vendors, led by IBM, to open source Java and such a move will certainly accelerate growth in the market and score significant points against the king of unpopular licensing, Microsoft.