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Sun pushes standardized Java for cell phones

The company and its allies have begun efforts to fix problems they've encountered in creating a single Java program for most Internet-enabled handsets.

Sun Microsystems concedes that there have been problems writing a single Java program that can run on most Internet-enabled handsets, but the company and its allies have begun two efforts to fix the problem.

At the 3GSM World Congress trade show on Tuesday, Sun, Nokia, Motorola, Siemens and Sony Ericsson announced that they have begun a partnership called "Java Verified" to ensure that Java on cell phones comes closer to meeting its "write once, run anywhere" tag line promise.

In addition, Alan Brenner, vice president of Sun's Consumer and Mobile Systems Group, said he believes that Java advocates are settling on unified standards that will cut down on variations in a mobile phone's Java foundations.

Java lets the same program run on a variety of different computers--a Mac OS X, Windows or Linux laptop, for example. Different varieties of Java exist for different classes of computing systems.

But Java is a complicated collection of features for different areas. The broad category for devices such as cell phones or in-dash car computers, called Java 2 Micro Edition, has many variations for features such as Universal Serial Bus support, Bluetooth, instant messaging and online payments.

Sun and the cell phone allies began the Java Verified program, which certifies programs to ensure that they'll run on different companies' mobile phones. Running on Java has been a tricky process in the past, with different phones having different features, such as buttons, message handling, processing power, and sound and graphics capabilities.

The fragmentation issue experienced with cell phone companies wasn't the first time the concern cropped up. Sun and Java allies launched a similar verification program in 2002.

The second major effort to ease programming difficulties comes through the Java Community Process, an industry collaboration to develop Java standards.

The JCP has produced specifications such as the Mobile Information Device Platform. The latest version, MIDP 2, covers more ground than the first version, leaving less room for the proprietary extensions that tugged MIDP 1.0 phones in different directions, Brenner said.

"The first version of MIDP was feature-light, so a lot of people went out and filled out features," Brenner said. Some handsets use MIDP 2.0, but it will be "a couple of quarters before it's pervasive, so everything being shipped has MIDP 2.0 in there," he added.

Handset maker Nokia, which makes tens of millions of Java-enabled cell phones, also believes that MIDP 2.0 will "reduce the fragmentation," said Vice President Lee Epting.

"We're getting a lot more consistency," she said during a recent interview.

In the longer term, the cell phone allies and Sun are working to bring more order to the mobile phone Java technology through another collaboration in the Java Community Process. That group, called Java Technology for the Wireless Industry, exists to plan the future direction of Java for mobile phones.