Eclipse Pulsar seeks mobile app dev unity

Motorola and Nokia are on board, but key vendors Microsoft, Apple, and Google are not part of the effort to simplify app development for different mobile systems

Tackling the complicated issue of developing mobile applications for different platforms, the Eclipse Foundation is set to unveil on Tuesday a project to build a multi-vendor, unified platform for mobile development. But the effort thus far lacks the support of some major mobile players including Microsoft and Apple.

Called Pulsar, the initiative is intended to build a standard mobile application development tools platform. It is being led by vendors like Motorola and Nokia and seeks to make it easier to develop applications for different mobile systems. Although the individual platform technologies would not go away, Pulsar provides a unified platform to work with the individual vendor-specific technologies.

[ Though it hasn't joined up with Pulsar, Microsoft did recently herald the Silverlight-Eclipse link. ]

"The whole notion here is that an application developer can go to eclipse.org, download the Pulsar platform, and it's complete and ready to go," said Dino Brusco, senior director for developer platform and services at Motorola. Pulsar is based on the Eclipse IDE and features plug-ins for different mobile development environments. The Pulsar platform accesses vendor-specific SDKs; the first release of Pulsar is planned for late June when Eclipse offers its "Galileo" release train of multiple technologies.

"A developer does not have to go to the different sites to download [the different SDKs]," Brusco said. Initial supporters of Pulsar, in addition to Motorola, include Nokia, RIM, Sony Ericsson, IBM, and Genuitec. Mobile platforms of all these vendors will be supported by Pulsar.

"We believe that this Pulsar platform will make it easier for developers who have not had experience developing for mobile to come into the mobile space," said Brusco.

A RIM executive stressed that Pulsar is intended to make it easier for developers having to cope with building applications for many devices and work with many development environments. "I think what Eclipse is driving and many of us have been focused on for a while is how do we make the developer's life in mobile a lot simpler," said Alan Brenner, senior vice president at RIM.

Java Micro Edition will be a platform supported by Pulsar. But missing at this juncture is support of major mobile platforms, such as Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android.

Pulsar, though, is an industry initiative open to all companies, Brusco said. "We hope these other companies will look at it," he said.

The lack of support from vendors like Microsoft and Apple "highlights the schisms that are forming in the smartphone space," said Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"There's not really a good way to develop a single app and deploy it across Symbian, RIM, Windows Mobile, iPhone, and Android," said Hammond. "There are mobile middleware platforms and tools that come close, but it's still a least-common denominator approach that doesn't tap into device-specific ecosystems like the [Apple] App Store."

But Hammond did laud Pulsar.

"I think it's an interesting approach to making mobile development more approachable for mainstream developers but it's really only a start," he said. "They will need to get a few releases out and support phones that developers really want to build apps on. Technically though, it's a pretty sound approach."

Microsoft declined to comment on the Eclipse mobile initiative. A Google representative said the company has been approached but declined to participate in Eclipse mobile efforts at this time. Google is an Eclipse member and does support an Eclipse plug-in for the Android SDK, according to a Google representative.

Pulsar differs from the already-existing Eclipse MTJ (Mobile Tools for Java) platform in that it would support MT4J as well as other technologies. MTJ enables development of Java ME (Micro Edition) applications. "(MTJ) becomes the starting point for the Java environment of the Pulsar platform," Brusco said.

Eclipse also offers its tools for Mobile Linux projects, for mobile applications, and embedded RCP (Rich Client Platform) for embedded devices, Brusco said. "What was missing from those projects was a higher level collaboration amongst mobile companies to talk about bringing these projects together, creating a common tools platform for the mobile space," he said.

"The Pulsar initiative is really about a common tools platform that's more than Java," he said.

Specific deliverables of the Pulsar effort include:

* Development of a packaged distribution called Eclipse Pulsar Platform;

* A technical roadmap to advance Pulsar's capabilities;

* A set of best practices, including documentation and test suites;

* Education and outreach to drive adoption of Pulsar.

In conjunction with its participation in Pulsar, RIM has delivered version 1.0 of it Blackberry JDE (Java Development Environment) Plug-in for Eclipse, offering a plug-in enabling developers to build applications for the RIM Blackberry device from within the Eclipse IDE. RIM also has increased its sponsorship level in Eclipse from a solutions-level member to an enterprise member, Brenner said

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