Upwardly Mobile Java

Java could amplify the emergence of the wireless handset platform.

Call it a paradigm shift if you want. By whatever name, in information technology, its a seismic event when the epicenter of innovation shifts from one platform to another. Its happened before as data centers gave way to desktops, and it could be happening again as the PC, in turn, gives way to the wireless handset.

The desktop PC is at a mature stage in its evolution. Although an essential piece of any IT environment, theres not much new raw material that application developers can use to create new capability. The wireless handset, though, is on the verge of achieving a combination of processing power, persistent connectivity, ubiquitous presence and proven transaction infrastructure that can transform peoples lives. Java could amplify the emergence of this new platform. Sun Microsystems, the originator and custodian of Java, would certainly like it to be so. But theres plenty that Sun needs to do before this dream can be realized.

With the ubiquity of the cellular network comes a diversity of user device hardware that might gravely complicate the task of delivering richer applications to those devices. Heres where the benefits of Java are being felt: The Java platform is well on its way to becoming the universal software environment for those devices. There are competing environments, but they have failed to achieve penetration of the mobile device market and do not enjoy Javas breadth of coverage.

"All its going to take," said Sun Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz, in a conversation with eWEEK editors at this months JavaOne conference, "is using skills already in-house and looking at the next generation of handsets to see which is appropriate for your application." With richer hardware resources on those handsets, Schwartz said, come opportunities for richer applications that can afford to allocate more of their power to an improved user experience. "Rather than looking strictly at the code we want to write, we need to look at the experience that we want users to have," said Schwartz, admitting that the Java platform has been marketed to developers but not built into a compelling end-user brand.

End users are not the only ones who feel a need for more attention. In a JavaOne discussion, even participants in the Java Community Process expressed concerns about possible fragmentation and excessive standards churn. Sun is talking the talk of a more unified Java system, reversing the last few years trend toward ever-more editions of Java, but Sun needs to walk the walk by converging its Java editions. Years ago, the "Intel Inside" campaign substantially redefined the nature of power in the PC industry. Suns newly announced "Java Powered" branding could have an equally powerful effect but with an emphasis on interoperability rather than hegemony. A transparent, coherent standards process and effective communication of end-user benefits should be Suns goals. ยด

eWEEK welcomes your response at eWEEK@ziffdavis.com.