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Feature Article
April 2001


A New Technology Delivery Vehicle Embraces Wireless


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 world.

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.

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.

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?

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 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.

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 makers. 

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. 

Return 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 today.

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. 

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