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Sun seeks to simplify Java for wireless

The company announces two initiatives designed to make life easier for developers of Java applications for wireless devices and head off defections to rival programming languages.

Sun Microsystems announced Tuesday two initiatives designed to make life easier for developers of Java applications for wireless devices and head off defections to rival programming languages.

A new alliance between cell phone makers will strip away layers of fat involved in the process of getting new applications certified, the company said. And Sun also promised more support for developers focused on crafting applications for mobile professionals. Such professionals are considered the earliest users of new generations of wireless messaging products and are a prime target for smart phones--gadgets that combine the features of a cell phone and a PDA (personal digital assistant).

The changes are meant to encourage the 500,000 developers now crafting wireless software out of Sun's Java language. By removing some everyday hurdles, Sun hopes to give these developers less reason to migrate to Qualcomm's BREW () language or Microsoft's Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 operating system.

"We are simplifying the whole process of getting applications to market," said Juan Dewar, senior director of Sun's consumer, mobility and strategic solutions group.

Sun's Java is the dominant choice for cell phone service providers now selling downloads to their subscribers. There are 53 carriers worldwide using Java, while BREW is used by only a handful, including U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless. Carriers are selling downloads because intense competition has forced a precipitous drop in the price of their main product, voice calls.

But for such small-sized applications, these cell phone ring tones, games, and photo and messaging programs written in Java must go through a rather bloated bureaucracy before becoming available to wireless dialers. Handset makers Siemens, Nokia, Motorola and SonyEricsson each have their own tests the applications must pass.

Now, however, these independent certification tests are being combined, according to Dewar, who said the move shows that Java for gadgets is moving beyond the initial problems it had in which different handset makers would support different extensions.

"This is an indication that we are making significant progress in converging the list of specific (interfaces) that manufacturers may have had to develop in the past," Dewar said. There now is a balance between differentiation and standardization.

Developers will pay an as-yet-undisclosed fee to have an independent authorization company verify their programs, after which the developer will be allowed to attach a Java logo to the software package, Dewar said. The program will begin in the third quarter, added Greg Wolff, group manager of carrier solutions and content programs.

When it comes to creating applications geared toward mobile professionals, Sun made available its new Sun Developer Network Mobility Program, designed to provide the raw materials developers need to fine-tune their software.

To help stockpile more applications for wireless savvy businesspeople, Sun has resurrected a late 1990s Web mainstay--the B2B or business-to-business, portal. The portal will be where developers can "pose and expose" their wares directly to carriers, Dewar said.

Sun hasn't done well so far in selling Java-powered phones as a business tool, acknowledged Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software for Sun. Schwartz said the problem was that, until recently, not enough Java cell phones had been sold overall.

"I don't think we've done an effective job of generating the volume out in the marketplace. With the obvious and demonstrable volume we have now, that becomes a lot more practical," Schwartz said.

One reason Java will be popular for business uses is that it provides a good way to ensure a computer user's identity, Schwartz said. "The future of the planet is much more related to the evolution of authenticated mobile devices than it is to anonymous Windows PCs," Schwartz said.