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Sun moves to join phones, Web services

The company is working to turn its Java software for cell phones and other gadgets into a tool to leapfrog Microsoft in Web services.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems is working to turn its Java software for cell phones and other gadgets into a tool to leapfrog Microsoft in Web services, a movement to remake the Internet that caught Sun flat-footed.

Microsoft helped launch the Web services movement and plans to sell both its .Net software--used to create Web services--and some of the services themselves. Sun was slow off the blocks, though, deciding only last year to promote its Sun One Web services effort alongside its Java software as it seeks greater profits from the Java langauge.

But the Santa Clara, Calif.-based server seller is now off and running. Monday, at its JavaOne show here, the company announced an effort to create Web services software that will run on cell phones and other gadgets.

The work will "extend Web wireless handsets" or any other device with a Java Virtual Machine, said Sun Java Chief Rich Green during a keynote address Monday. The project, a collaboration between Sun and other companies, should yield the new technology in the summer of 2003.

Web services is a push, widely endorsed but still largely nascent, to make services on the Internet more sophisticated. For example, drivers using a dashboard-based computer could surf the Web for nearby gas stations, which could trigger a cascade of communications: gas stations sending prices and promotions to the computer, a news site sending traffic alerts.

Sun's new effort builds on its successes with cell phone makers and service operators, including Vodafone Group, NTT DoCoMo, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, Motorola and Nokia. Nokia, the top maker of phones, has said it expects to ship 50 million Java-enabled phones by this year and 100 million by 2003.

"2002 is the year of wireless Java," proclaimed Jouko Hayrynen, Nokia's vice president of mobile software, during Green's keynote.

Java, invented by Sun, allows programs to run on many devices of the same class without having to be rewritten for each one or having to be tweaked for different operating systems. For example, a Java program could run on an IBM or a Sun server, or on a Motorola or a Samsung cell phone.

Microsoft is comparatively weak in cell phones, but it has explicitly included portable computing devices in its Web services work. Microsoft's .Net Compact Framework competes with Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition for gadgets.

Also, Microsoft's Web services technology for gadgets is expected sooner. The company will release its Web services technology for mobile devices during the second half of 2002, about a year earlier than Sun.

Sun argues it's ahead, though, by virtue of its installed base of Java cell phones. "It's an issue of present vs. potential future," Green said in a news conference Monday.

Sun runs and guns
Sun has launched an all-out effort to catch up in the Web services field and to embrace its underpinnings, such as the XML standards for describing data and messages. Senior executives say "Java and XML" where they once just said "Java," and Sun changed Green's title last year from general manager of Java to general manager of Java and XML (Extensible Markup Language).

Sun uses the cross-platform, all-operating-systems-welcome Java as a way to outflank Microsoft. The programming language has been most successful in areas where Microsoft is comparatively weak: servers and gadgets, for example, but not desktop computers. Monday's announcement follows this pattern, trying to make Java, not Windows, the foundation for Web services.

Microsoft and Sun are keenly aware of the importance of development tools in moving a technology from the idea stage to something that's useful in real life. Sun plans to announce on Wednesday a new Mobile Edition of its Forte programming tools to build Java programs for gadgets.

And Sun's Java-Web services union in gadgets has support from development-tool sellers Borland and Metrowerks, as well as from Motorola, Research in Motion, Oracle, Siemens and Symbian.

Microsoft's "Stinger" Windows-powered cell phone initiative certainly can't claim as much success, but the Redmond, Wash.-based company has made strong progress.

.Net Compact Framework is a subset of Microsoft's .Net Framework technology, which has been available the last few months and is a key piece of the company's .Net Web services strategy. Currently a part of the Visual Studio.Net software-development tools, the .Net Framework is the software fabric that automates many development tasks and helps software run reliably and securely across multiple servers and computers. The software is available for free download from Microsoft's Web site.

The .Net Compact Framework is aimed at personal digital assistants, cell phones and other handheld devices. It will be built for Windows CE devices initially, but Microsoft says it may make the framework available for multiple hardware platforms and operating systems. However, it has not announced any concrete plans yet.

Microsoft released a technology preview of the .Net Compact Framework last October and will release a beta version this spring. Final release is expected in the second half of 2002, a Microsoft representative said.

Regardless of whose technology is used, running Web services on cell phones is a stretch because of the limited computing power available.

"The big challenge is how you get it to fit in the cell phones," said Java creator James Gosling.

Sun has addressed the issue through a feature of Java that lets computing jobs be split across different devices in the network. A cell phone could shunt off the more processing-intensive Web services to a server, while a comparatively powerful device such as a handheld computer could do more of the work itself, Green said.

Sun also is working on a project called "Monty" to speed up the performance of Java Virtual Machines by a factor of five to 10. JVMs are the essential parts of the Java technology that translate Java programs into instructions different computers can understand.

The Monty team includes members of the team that wrote the HotSpot JVM that improved Java for servers and desktop computers, Green said.