Wireless Enterprise Apps are Brewing

Qualcomm's BREW targets downloads, compatibility; vendors at work on products and services

A handful of software developers are building enterprise applications on early versions of a new wireless platform from Qualcomm Inc. that promises easy downloads and broad compatibility. But whether users buy into the technology is another matter.

The platform is Qualcomms Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, or BREW. Companies including Visto Corp. and Wireless Knowledge Inc. are each building products and services around it.

Visto will incorporate BREW into Visto-hosted services that enable wireless access to and synchronization with corporate applications. The companys latest offering, MobileLynx, will be announced next week and will enable wireless access directly to company servers rather than just to users desktops. The BREW platform will let users download the applications wirelessly and mix and match the ones they need, said officials in Mountain View, Calif.

Wireless Knowledge, which sells two wireless middleware platforms, Workstyle and Anystyle, intends to add to them support for BREW to enable customers to choose which corporate apps they want to support on their cell phones. Users will then be able to interact both online and offline with corporate e-mail, calendar, contact information and any other applications that the San Diego vendor sees fit to make available for BREW.

Wireless phone users and IT managers said they support downloading browser-independent applications to most cell phones. Much will depend on the applications themselves, users said.

"If Im on the phone with a business contact and they want to schedule a meeting, would I be able to bring up my Outlook Calendar on my phone and perform the task?" asked Lester Morgan, senior manager of IT for the National Football League, in New York. "Can I connect, wirelessly, to my messaging system to synchronize data between the server and the cell phone? That would be useful."

In an effort to promote even more enterprise application development, Hewlett-Packard Co. last week introduced MicrochaiVM, a 25KB edition of the Palo Alto, Calif., companys Chai platform for running Java applications on devices ranging from personal digital assistants to set-top boxes. HP has a deal with San Diego-based Qualcomm to port MicrochaiVM, available now as a developers release, to BREW.

Thales e-Transactions is evaluating MicrochaiVM, and officials there say it could speed application development. Thales, which makes card payment terminals, has to individually test each application on every platform for the banks that are its customers, a process that can take up to six months.

"We need a technology that allows us to certify applications and platforms separately, and [Microchai] will allow us to do that," said Phil James, application development manager for Thales, in Salisbury, England.

BREW wont be available to most developers until May, but those who work with Sun Microsystems Inc.s J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) complain that it lacks a cross-device user interface tool kit, so developers need to rewrite their applications for every device.