Java readies itself for wireless Web services

Emerging Java platforms are well positioned for wireless Web services developers

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  • Due to their personal and pervasive nature, wireless devices are perceived as consumer electronics. Consumers do not care what is under a device's hood as long it does the specific job, thus allowing multiple vendors to co-exist in the same product category. Each vendor can achieve similar functionalities using different approaches. For example, different vendors manufacture dozens of cell phones on different platforms that all provide largely the same functionalities.
  • Unlike desktop computers, which are designed for generic computing tasks, wireless devices usually complete specific tasks with minimum sizes and optimal user interfaces. Thus, the huge variety of mobile applications requires many different devices and innovative solutions from many different vendors. No single vendor can provide the best solution for all tasks. For example, among PDA vendors are a variety of CPU and OS platforms. Palm OS, the most popular PDA platform, targets small, cheap, easy-to-use devices with basic features. Windows CE and embedded Linux devices are quickly gaining market share on high-end devices.

The heavy competition in the wireless devices market benefits customers by offering choices. But the fragmented platforms create a nightmare for developers. Repeatedly developing and maintaining different versions of the same application for different devices is prohibitively expensive. Yet, any general-purpose wireless application must run on all types of devices customers might own. Thus, cross-platform compatibility is a core issue to consider when developing wireless applications.

The server back end features many platforms ranging from Linux, to Unix, to Windows. J2EE's (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) success has proved the value of cross-platform compatibility on the server side. As the back end evolves into multivendor, multiplatform, and interoperable Web services networks, Java's value will increase.

Though a core advantage of Java, cross-platform compatibility comes at a price: a performance price. No absolute compatibility exists among a huge variety of wireless devices. For example, you can't possibly port the full features of an application designed to run on a TV set-top box to a tiny cell phone. Even among similar devices, such as high- and low-end cell phones, portability can cause under-utilization of resources on one device, while straining the resources of another. The J2ME platform balances Java's portability with performance on many wireless platforms. As we discussed, Sun divided J2ME into multiple configurations and profiles to achieve maximum functionality and performance for different device categories, and ensure portability within any one category.

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