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Eclipse offers sliver of light

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When it comes to easing the pain of building applications for developers that target different mobile devices, many have come with supposed remedies and many have either disappeared or helped make things worse.

Now it's the turn of Eclipse, more famous for its work on servers and desktops - only the open-source foundation originally created by IBM reckons things will be different this time.

The Eclipse Foundation today plans to announce the Pulsar Platform, a project with backing from major handset manufacturers that focuses on mobile tools instead of runtimes.

Due as version one this June with the Galileo release of Eclipse, Pulsar will provide a common Eclipse-based tooling environment for different Java Mobile Edition (Java ME) SDKs. The goal is to extend Pulsar to native and HTML mobile applications.

Leading Pulsar are Motorola, Nokia and Genuitec, with IBM, RIM and Sony Ericsson Mobile as participating members.

Dino Brusco, Motorola's senior director of developer platforms and services, voiced a familiar refrain on "why" go with Eclipse. For developers, it's a familiar programming environment without the need to switch between IDEs, and that simplifies the task of finding tools.

For handset and service providers, Eclipse means they can cut out the time and cost of needlessly building and updating SDKs - reinventing the wheel. Now they share a common framework.

Eclipse is neither young nor a stealth operation; it was created in 2001, and enterprise Java vendors have been jumping in ever since for the very same reasons outlined by Brusco.

So where were the mobile and service providers during these last eight years and what's changed for them?

They've dropped their squabbling and territoriality in the face of two bigger threats to their developer market share, two companies notable for their absence from the list of Pulsar participants - Apple and Google. Their respective iPhone and Android have developers excited, consumers chomping at the bit, and - at least in the iPhone's case - slowly establishing a firm challenge in the smart-phone market for business users.

"Those two platforms have proven the value in the applications and services in the mobile space is here today," Brusco said. "Those and others have demonstrated this chance and inflection point is here to stay and its about applications and service."

Applications and mobile services have been the refrain of the mobile phone industry for years. It's just now incumbents fear they could lose potential developers - and their applications and services - to these new players.

Brusco said there'd been no outreach so far to Apple or Google to join Pulsar, although Google is a member of Eclipse - an important point, as Pulsar members must be part of Eclipse. "There's a well-defined process for how others can join," he said.

Also missing from Pulsar, unsurprisingly given the history of animosity, is Sun Microsystems. That's important for Sun, though, given it makes so much about the presence of Java on mobile devices and prides itself as being the steward of Java.

The absence of Sun is particularly important at this time, given the company's trying to persuade handset manufacturers, service providers and application developers to use its JavaFX Mobile technology for the development of "rich" mobile applications. Without Sun, there's no JavaFX presence in a group - Eclipse - that's proved formidable in shaping the Java tools market on servers, with an entire industry now behind it.

Brusco said JavaFX is not a part of the Pulsar roadmap, even though that roadmap is still being worked out.

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