Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/10/eclipse_pulsar/

Mobile companies unite on Apple - Google threat

Eclipse offers sliver of light

By Gavin Clarke

Posted in Developer, 10th March 2009 04:02 GMT

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.

Pulsar will include development tools for web technologies, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, to build the kinds of cross-platform, rich-interfaces that Sun is attempting to solve with JavaFX for mobile, the desktop and the TV.

Also, it seems, Pulsar will rely on JavaScript to get around the fact Google and Apple are not on board. Instead of writing native applications for the iPhone in particular, developers can use AJAX to write to the browser instead.

"This collaboration of these companies in this initiative will agree on the scripting environment for mobile," Brusco said of Pulsar. "So Pulsar is adding the mobile web space. We have that on our roadmap, and [it] is not based on JavaFX."

An important player in Pulsar is likely to be Nokia, thanks to its position as the world's largest handset manufacturer and the fact that it owns Symbian on the runtime side and Trolltech's Qt on tools on the developer end. Brusco flagged up early on that Pulsar will provide native operating system support. Given Nokia's presence, that's bound to mean the ability to build Symbian applications using this Eclipse-based IDE.

Less clear is the role Qt will play, as it's a cross-platform framework and - now with version 4.5 - a fledgling IDE. "Nokia, being one of the members of the steering committee on the working group, has input and influence on the roadmap," Brusco said. "As we go forward we can collaborate among all of us and we can collaborate on the roadmap and the priorities."

What can you expect in the meantime?

Once you download Pulsar this June, you'll be able to specify the handset you're targeting from a drop-down list, and Pulsar will pull in the appropriate SDK so you don't need to go online and find it yourself. According to Eclipse, there'll be a common set of Eclipse-based tools in a packaged distribution that will interoperate with the different handset SDKs.

A lot remains to be seen about Pulsar: how far different SDKs will work inside the environment, what common tooling - if any - they will share, and how many SDKs will plug in, never mind the degree of native operating-system and web-scripting support.

The fact Pulsar is built on Eclipse will go a long way in its favor based on the current level of technology interoperability, features and industry support for the Eclipse platform.

However, if Pulsar is meant to be of genuine benefit to the developer instead of purely a defensive coalition, it'll need input from Apple and Google, depending - of course - on how far that level of AJAX support really goes.

Without Apple, Google or some serious AJAX capabilities onboard, Pulsar will go the way of all those other supposed remedies.®