A New Technology Delivery Vehicle Embraces
BY DAVID H. YOUNG
While Open Source's signature technologies -- Linux and the Internet --
establish their well-earned place in corporate IT infrastructure, the Open
Source mechanism is now tackling the new kid on the block -- wireless
computing. For the past few decades, the phenomenon of Open Source has been
largely tied to cost-effective Internet infrastructure technologies such as
SendMail, Apache, and operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD. Marching
up the middleware food chain, Open Source took on dynamic Web content
delivery tools, ranging from CGI scripting with Perl and Tcl, to full-blown
application servers Zope and Java-based Enhydra.
And now, Open Source is taking on the mobile world. Why not? Look what it
did for something that made the Internet a household word: The Browser. Only
now, instead of the browser delivering the Internet into the hands of the
masses, the Internet itself is reason enough for mobile devices to leverage
it. Reading e-mail on the run, accessing the same customer database with our
PDA that we can from our browser at work, and enjoying the same
cost-effective technologies that make it relatively inexpensive to deploy
enterprise intranet applications are all reasons why the new mobile world is
building on the new world Web infrastructure.
The Internet has inserted itself worldwide as a defacto standard for
connectivity, application standards, and application development language
(Java); it only makes sense that these applications expand into the mobile
So what's the big deal? For the first time, Open Source is helping to
deliver new hardware platforms through mobile devices. That means creating
"applications" that make it compelling to buy these devices. How
compelling is a platform that has no application? Remember when the Mac
rolled out? It was the applications from Apple, Claris, Adobe, Lotus, and
Microsoft that made it worth purchasing for reasons beyond the novelty item
that it might have become without them. Steve Jobs did the thing you do to
deliver an enabling platform -- go door-to-door campaigning ISVs to build
and/or port applications to help him make his platform useful. Remember
OSF's DCE (distributed computing environment)? High cost and the dearth of
useful applications made it a historical footnote long ago.
Today, there's a new vehicle for delivering applications for new hardware
platforms, such as J2ME devices, iMode, and WAP phones. Let me reintroduce
you to Open Source.
THE OPEN SOURCE MOVEMENT
Open Source is the force of globalization at its finest. Focused e-mail
discussion groups link the best and brightest of the world's engineers,
independent of their employer's ear, and empowered by access to freely
available source code. This drives the evolution of a technology with
real-world collaboration, opinion, requirements, and feedback. 24 x 7 x
worldwide code review makes Open Source technology superior to traditional
closed source technology.
A new industry, slowed by competing standards, is the perfect target for
the Open Source process to bring coherence and alignment. Wireless
application development, with its competing set of regionalized standards
for such things as protocols (WAP, iMode, and CDPD) and presentation
languages (WML, HTML, HDML, and compact HTML) is in great need of the value
of a real-world Open Source process.
Like security, "Internationalization" (or I18N) of applications
used to be an afterthought for most ISVs and operating system vendors
because it was considered to be just too hard. In the Open Source community,
there are Taiwanese, South Africans, French, and Germans. You get the idea
that these are folks who are personally motivated to make sure that Open
Source technologies are capable of supporting localization and are quick to
raise red flags when others forget.
THE KEY: XML
I'm sure you've been drowning in articles and conversations about XML.
You've heard it does for portable data what Java did for portable computing.
But XML is much more than a mechanism for transmitting raw data in standard
format. There's nothing that says that that data can't be instructions to a
display device on how, what, and where valuable information, such as lottery
results, should be displayed on your Nokia 5185i.
But XML is about standards. What does that have to do with the ability of
Open Source to address the wireless world?
HDML to WML
As XML gained momentum, it became clear that HDML, Phone.com's defacto
phone markup language standard, had to adapt. So WAP Forum and Phone.com
reengineered the HDML language to have an XML grounding resulting in the WML
language. Now, any HTML-generation application could more easily make the
adjustments to generate WML that could then be delivered to any WAP gateway
for redirection to proprietary cell phones. This was the first step made by
the mobile industry to begin embracing and leveraging the Internet.
WML to XHTML
WML is still a proprietary design that incorporates HDML's deck of cards
concept. In January 2001, the folks who brought us XML, the W3C
organization, released the latest specification for XHTML. Micro XHTML is
the language that the folks behind G3 (high bandwidth, packet-based,
always-connected phones) and the WAP Forum want to use to replace not only
WML, but NTT DoCoMo's compact HTML (iMode) as well. If this comes to pass,
we'll have instant conformity amongst both the WAP market and Asian iMode
market in one fell swoop.
What does the move to embrace XML by the wireless industry mean to the
Open Source process? XML represents the bridge from a previously
proprietary-driven wireless industry to one based on key open standards.
This transition is the point of convergence that makes it possible for Open
Source to play a key role in the maturation and unification of the wireless
standards. Not surprisingly, XML is clearly a darling of the Open Source
industry. Apache's Xerces XML parser is widely deployed, and Enhydra's XMLC
has already been enhanced to support everything from HTML/WML presentations
to compact HTML, XHTML, and VoiceXML.
BENEFITING FROM THE CONVERGENCE OF XML AND THE OPEN SOURCE PROCESS
It's more than the wireless OEMs who will benefit from the Open Source
phenomenon -- we all will. The OEMs will leverage the existing worldwide
communities who evaluate, prototype and give feedback on standards; debug;
spread the word; and build new applications for their platforms. The
corporate IT organization will now have access to inexpensive knowledge and
technology, including entire platforms for building affordable wireless
platforms to support their field technicians, delivery personnel, and sales
force. Finally, the consumers will benefit from the same downward price
pressures that the Internet offers traditional proprietary software
David H. Young is chief evangelist of Lutris
Technologies. Through its professional services organization, Lutris
partners with clients by deploying these focused teams to develop and
implement total e-business solutions. We offer strategic insight, technical
expertise, best practices, and progressive technologies, helping clients
create or expand their Internet business strategies. Services also include
tailored application architecture and development, Internet systems
integration, and creative user interface design and branding.
To The April 2001 Table Of Contents
A New Model For Delivering New Devices
The stage has been set by the wireless industry's adoption of XML for
Open Source to wield its magic. The combination of XML world domination and
the expanding Open Source process are helping to resolve conflicting
standards. In the hands of the worldwide Open Source developer community,
the fruits of wireless development will be generated by the application of
Internet know-how and shared dialogue and agreement. What evidence is there
that the wireless community, particularly the phone OEMs of the world, will
actually leverage this channel for application development?
Back in December 2000, Motorola and Lutris Technologies made a modest,
yet significant announcement. Motorola agreed to package Lutris' Open Source
Enhydra application server with its Software Developer's Kit (SDK), which
included an emulator of its yet-to-be-released iDEN phone. IDEN will be one
of the first J2ME devices capable of running micro Java applications that
will be able to give these mobile devices more functionality than the ocean
of rather computing-restricted WAP and iMode phones that are out there
The significance is that for the first time, a major OEM of any industry,
PC or otherwise, will be leveraging an Open Source community to spearhead
the availability of applications in support of the unique requirements by
their new platform environment. In this case, it's a J2ME device with all
the advantages of a mobile phone and more because it can run smart client
software. That phone becomes even more powerful when its client software can
negotiate with a modern application server back at the office. By the way,
it'll be another Open Source technology, namely the kXML parser, also from
Enhydra.org, that will make it possible for XML to transport data and
presentation information between the phone and application server.
To The April 2001 Table Of Contents