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Sun preps cell-phone Java plan for netbooks

Modules not globules

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OpenWorld 09 Sun Microsystems is working with partners to make Java telecomsy for netbooks.

The company hopes to deliver a modular version of Java Micro Edition (Java ME) "sometime" next year, which would let netbooks running Java offer more of the kinds of features used in cell phones and are currently enabled on such devices through the Java APIs.

Currently, netbooks must use Java Standard Edition (Java SE), which is used on notebooks and PCs.

The work would also bring functionality found on laptops to some smart phones, according to Sun.

Jeet Kaul, vice president of Sun's client software group, told The Reg at Oracle's OpenWorld: "Currently netbooks run Java on the desktop, but we want them to be able to do mobile things, so we want those mobile APIs to be available here and that - rather than having two VMs - we want to have it modular."

Kaul said Sun and partners are trying to figure out when and how to release the modular version of Java ME, which will also bring dynamic languages like Jruby to mobile.

"The first effort on modularization is on SE. As we do that we are building a mobile version as we speak, and we are building a version for the netbooks," Kaul said.

Of course, everything Kaul said is heavily caveated by Oracle's pending acquisition of Sun. It's unknown, publicly at least, what Sun projects Oracle will continue once the deal closes.

Also, a great deal will depend on what happens to JavaFX under Oracle. JavaFX is Sun's preferred option for interface programming on mobile, PC and TV.

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison, meanwhile, has declared publicly for JavaFX on computers, it is barely used. The de facto standard in handsets, however, is Java ME.

But Oracle would need to adapt its developer tools strategy to incorporate JavaFX. The database giant's standard for Java and SOA is its JDeveloper suite. Rather than scrap NetBeans, as has been expected, Oracle would need to retain NetBeans because it's the only suite and framework that works with JavaFX, which remains a closed language only from Sun.

Supporting the idea of a change, is the fact Oracle now has a track record of accepting non-JDeveloper IDEs: it moved fully to Eclipse once it sucked in BEA Systems' WebLogic Workshop after its BEA acquisition.

The industry's modularity work on Java started Java SE 6.0 and will see its latest incarnation in the forthcoming release of Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 6.0. Java EE 6.0 will introduce profiles - subsets of APIs for particular classes of application such as financial or telecommunications, for example.

After much debate about how bloated Java has become, the idea now is to let developers build what they want for the devices they want using only the APIs they need.

The move to modularity could also make updates to Java simpler, as the community could update specific APIs or slide in new functionality instead of waiting to refresh the entire stack.

Kaul made it sound like Sun and partners might use the Java EE 6.0 modularity push to build a profile for netbooks. So far, just one profile is planned - a Java EE Web Profile for "modern web application development".

The ability to run dynamic languages on mobile is an important part of this work.

With a modular stack, mobile could use the same VM as SE and EE. Importantly, Sun's VM work with dynamic languages such as Jruby, without a need for a separate VM or additional programming framework tailored to that specific language.

Kaul said: "We don't want one big huge globule put together. We just want to say: 'If you want this functionality, you got it.'"

He called the ability to swap in and out features and to run dynamic languages on mobile, part of an attempt to build a "next generation mobile platform" using Java.

Sun in 2006 hired JRuby developers Charles Nutter and Thomas Enebo to work on help dynamic language take advantage of the JVM's features. They recently left Sun, but it's usual for open-source projects to move with the person, not stay with a company, so it's reasonable to assume JRuby on the JVM will continue.

Nutter said recently he'd been given more resources to pursue JRuby with his new employer, Ruby specialist EngineYard.

Ironically, Nutter said he and Enebo left Sun precisely because of the uncertainty caused over the Jruby on VM project by Oracle's pending acquisition. Nutter said this had left them unable to plan for the future, while they also didn't know whether JRuby would continue. ®

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