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Motorola working with software guru on cell phone

Software veteran Philippe Kahn in his latest venture is working with the company to develop a cell phone that would quickly send images over the wireless Web.

You're at the beach and forget whether you left your porch light on, so you make a call on your cell phone. The call instructs a small camera hidden in your front yard to snap a black-and-white image of your porch and zap it back to you.

Such is the vision of Philippe Kahn, founder of software maker Borland and later of synchronization software company Starfish. Philippe Kahn

Another one of his companies, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based LightSurf, is now working with Motorola to embed into cell phones a sugar cube-sized camera he calls the Digital Eye.

LightSurf also says it has developed a way to speed delivery over the wireless Web of information-heavy JPEGs that contain digital photos.

In tandem, the two developments hope to create a way to snap photos and send them out wirelessly in near real time.

"There is four or five years of hard work ahead of us, but (Kahn) thinks it'll be the biggest infrastructure play yet," LightSurf spokesman Robin Niger said this week.

Software that can speed the delivery of JPEG images is drawing the attention of many in the industry.

Digital images take a long time to send, and they use a good chunk of bandwidth. But with LightSurf software, the JPEG file won't become its enormous self until it is well on its way to its final destination.

The software distributes the process throughout the system, instead of packaging a huge file together and launching it.

The picture ends up being about half its original file size and taking about half the time to reach its intended recipient.

Credit Suisse First Boston lauded LightSurf in a report in November, before the company started publicizing the Digital Eye. But other analysts, such as those from Dataquest, aren't as effusive about LightSurf's world-changing predictions.

"OK, they made this work on a limited bandwidth on a tiny screen," Gartner analysts wrote in a report in November. "Why haven't they made it work on PCs?"

Also, cameras inside cell phones aren't exactly new. Samsung has already introduced a model with a camera attachment. But the images must first be downloaded to a PC, which is where they stay.

Kahn, who has mellowed from his younger days as a globe-hopping, saxophone player, still hasn't lost his sense of grandeur. He tells his colleagues that LightSurf is going to change the way the Internet works.

Not focusing only on the future, LightSurf has also built a clip-on camera for some Motorola cell phones. Motorola has licensed the technology and expects to begin offering cell phones with the clip-on cameras sometime in the next year.

Phones that actually contain the miniaturized camera should start making the rounds within the next two years, Niger said. Aside from Motorola, Niger claims LightSurf is talking with "every major phone maker" about embedding the camera. Home security companies might also be interested, he added.

LightSurf is just the latest of Kahn's companies. Niger said Kahn founded Borland in the early 1980s and operated it out of his garage for a time, then took it to the big time before Microsoft overshadowed it in the software wars.

Kahn started StarFish in 1993, funding it himself. The company began creating software to synchronize devices, even before the handheld became the staple of business that it is now.