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Big Blue makes Web services mobile

A set of new programming tools from IBM enables developers to build Web services applications that can be accessed on mobile devices.

IBM on Friday unveiled a set of programming tools specifically designed to bring Web services to mobile devices.

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Services Toolkit for Mobile Devices (WSTK) provides developers with tools and Java-based runtime software for building Web services applications that can be accessed on three mobile devices: Windows CE-based Pocket PCs, Palm devices and BlackBerry handhelds from Research In Motion.

IBM, along with BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and other companies, believes in using Java to build Web services. That contrasts with Microsoft's own Windows-based .Net plan. Microsoft already offers some tools for building mobile Web services applications on Pocket PC and Windows CE-powered devices.

Most businesses are either still investigating Web services, which are designed to connect business applications together over the Internet, or are just beginning to use the software to link their internal systems.

The latest trend is to allow business users to connect to servers running Web services over mobile devices. Just last week, cell phone maker Nokia introduced interfaces for creating Web services applications that could act as a bridge between mobile network servers and Web application servers.

"People have to understand that when you develop Web services, you must take into account that the world is using lots of different devices from lots of different vendors," said Bob Sutor, IBM's Director of Web Services Strategy. "Wireless devices are getting more powerful and more pervasive, so you have to make sure Web services are up to the job for providing good applications for wireless devices."

IBM's Web Services Toolkit for Mobile Devices is available online for free as a download. The toolkit will also be tied to the company's WebSphere Studio Device Developer as a plug-in. IBM said the tools are built on top of Eclipse, a project backed by IBM to create open-source development tools, according to Sutor.

"This has the potential to make a difference because there is a ready-made market for mobile services," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with research firm Red Monk, which focuses on enterprise application software and technology. "There are substantial numbers of enterprises who have BlackBerry, Pocket PC and Palm environments. This gives them another option to use Web services on those devices."

But O'Grady warns that the real hurdles holding back adoption of Web services is not device support, but much more fundamental issues such as security and management of Web services transactions.

IBM's new toolkit also contains C language-based runtime software and tools for Web services applications development in the C language on Palm and other non-Java devices.

"We have built a plug-in that lets you sit in an environment like Windows, and will have a plug-in coming at some point soon for Linux," said Sutor.

O'Grady said that rival players in Web services such as BEA Systems, Oracle, and Microsoft offer pieces, but not entire tools focused on Web services on wireless devices. "In that way, this is relatively unique," he said.