Opera Calls for Web Services on Mobiles

News Analysis: Browser maker Opera is promoting the use of its mobile app development platform based on the idea that Web services will drive the next generation of mobile business tools.

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As part of a concerted push to distribute its mobile Web browsing technologies to business users, Opera Software announced the week of March 13 that a new carrier partner in Europe will begin offering its Web services applications development platform to end users.

Such work provides a template for the design of future wireless business applications, company leaders said.

Under the agreement with Debitel, a second-tier European telecommunications provider based in Stuttgart, Germany, Opera said customers will be given the opportunity to work with its applications development tools to help translate existing programs into its mobile browsers.

Companies will also use the tools, dubbed Opera Platform, to build new wireless business applications from scratch, said Hakon Wium Lie, the software makers chief technology officer.

Lie, who worked on the pioneering World Wide Web project at CERN and is a member of the World Wide Web Consortium Advisory Board, said he still wonders why it took so long for standards to arise that made it possible for companies to build desktop browser-borne applications designed without regard for end-user operating systems.

He said hes betting that people wont make the same mistake when it comes to creating mobile business applications.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Operas deal with German wireless provider Debitel.

"Its taken us so long to get here, but we finally do have people building on interoperable standards so that they can build applications without consideration of whether its going to run on Windows, Linux or Mac," Lie said. "With Opera Platform we want people to be able to write new mobile business applications the same way that they can write widgets for the desktop, with nothing proprietary about them."

Opera, based in Oslo, Norway, said Debitel and several of its customers are already working on new versions of mobile work force tools, such as forms-based applications for field service representatives, tailored specifically to run in Operas mobile device software. Opera markets both its Mobile browser for smart phones and Mini, a stripped-down browser for more common feature phones.

Lie said the intersection of maturing Web services development with the arrival of new mobile technologies such as smart phones will allow companies to tap into their existing IT infrastructures in new ways.

While it will take time for companies to become more experienced with the best ways to design, test and deploy those types of applications, he said, the necessary pieces for supporting the work are falling into place.

"Theres an evolution going on where Web standards are being used to build increasingly more advanced tools, and theres a tipping point where this will begin taking over focus from what is being developed for the operating system," Lie said. "Since these customers can tap into existing standards to quickly create new applications for mobiles, theyll understand even better how Web services can change their entire IT infrastructure in ways they may not have previously thought about."

/zimages/4/28571.gifOpera is advancing its plans for a mobile portal. Read more here.

Lie conceded that it will likely be years before most companies are actively building and launching a majority of their own business applications in this fashion, and said more thorough testing of development environments remains a necessity for software and device makers, but he said some users are already jumping in.

For instance, he said some companies are working on mobile search tools built on standards such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), XML and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) that suggest different types of queries as a user enters data into a mobile device.

Much as Amazon.coms Web pages use a desktop browser-borne cookie to make suggestion to buyers about what products they might find interesting on its site, the mobile search application would base any retrieved data queries on previous applications or device usage.

Opera isnt the only intriguing technology vendor focused on Web services as a means for rapidly advancing the availability and sophistication of mobile business tools. Executives at Research In Motion, the clear leader in the wireless e-mail space, have endorsed a similar road map for moving the wireless industry forward.

David Heit, a senior product manager at RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said the best evidence of the growing importance of Web services technology for mobile applications can be found in todays world of desktop business tools.

Most major companies are already working with Web services development tools such as Microsofts .Net and SAPs NetWeaver, he said, so its only natural for them to begin looking for ways to bring mobility into the picture. /zimages/4/128936.gif

"People like SAP are already integrating their own development tools into their own environments, and so you already have people using NetWeaver to build Web services applications for the [RIM] BlackBerry," Heit said. "The sophistication of that type of development is evolving very quickly, and its safe to say that this will be one of the leading models for mobile applications design in the future."

Industry analysts lauded Operas work with Web services as part of its effort to win business users, but observed that the company still faces an uphill battle in taking market share away from companies like Microsoft, which has its Windows Mobile handheld technology tied into its dominant operating system and Web browsing businesses, and RIMs own Web services efforts.

Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn., said Operas best bet for winning business users may be if it can indeed convince companies to develop low-tech mobile applications that can be delivered to relatively cheap phones using its Mini browser.

"If Opera can make Web browsing tolerable on a cheaper phone then maybe they can win some users over that way," Reynolds said. "Otherwise, browsing on the handheld at all is still pretty unpopular and I dont see people adopting it much until the whole interface for doing so on a mobile phone gets a lot better."

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