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Mobile Web Services

Both Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are working on developing next generation software for mobile web services. However, while Sun expects Java's new technology to be rolled out in mid-2003, Microsoft expects to introduce its .Net software by the end of 2002. Consumer tests are due in the summer, and initial analyst comment has been very positive.

The desire to introduce sophisticated internet services has driven operators and software developers in both broadband and satellite industries since the early 1990s. NTT DoCoMo's introduction of 3G technology in October 2001 has put pressure on other wireless carriers to introduce advanced mobile wireless services.


Sun developed Java's cross-platform systems and language to promote interoperability between devices of the same class, which means that it can use a variety of fixed and wireless servers, and both local and wide area networks. Java uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) standards for data and messages, which processes computer programs and XML documents so that they can be read by any program that uses XML, SGML or HTML.

In contrast, Microsoft's strengths centre around the desktop computer as opposed to the wireless gadget. However, the .Net Compact Framework claims to be aimed at PDAs and other mobile devices. It will initially be available for Windows CE devices, but will become compatible with a number of hardware platforms and operating systems over time, although no firm plans have been announced. The .Net Compact Framework is part of the Visual Studio .Net software-development tools, which automate tasks and ensure security across multiple servers.


Both companies are quickly translating ideas into applications in the race for widespread acceptance. The Windows-based 'Stinger' is a one-hand-use mobile due for release mid-2002. It uses Microsoft's customisable Luna interface, so users can download personal photos for their device's screen background. Samsung, Mitsubishi and Senda are all partners of the project, and Vodafone is the wireless carrier. The British company Sendo, working with chipmaker Texas Instruments, will test the model in Europe and Asia. Samsung and Mitsubishi will make the colour screen handset.

Sun started promoting its very popular open source platform Forte programming tools for gadgets in March 2002. Forte provides a wireless kit and numerous API's (Application Programme Interfaces) for helping developers write applications for specific operating systems. Sun Java systems are being teamed with Information Architects' Jitzu metadata-based framework to build new, and develop existing, cheap, secure, personalised and advanced applications.

Tool developers are strongly supporting the Java-Web services union, with developers such as Symbian, Siemens, Oracle, Motorola, Metrowerks and Borland collaborating with Sun on the new gadgets and software. Examples of new applications include Sun's JavaOne phone that can take photos and attach them to emails sent from the handset. Sun's Java 2 Platform, micro edition, allows the company's database to provide real-time web services with the streaming capacity to watch TV and the security to manage their bank account.

The potential number of users of wireless internet services has encouraged both phone makers and service operators to work with Sun on the new technology. Nokia expects to ship 50 million Java-enabled phones by the end of 2002, and twice that by the end of 2003. Other interested parties include NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Verizon and Sprint.


Capacity and speed are major concerns for both web-based mobile systems. Current networks can only deliver a fraction of the necessary information to mobile devices, but massive amounts are being invested in greater airwave capacity and next generation equipment. Microsoft hopes that the introduction of the Stinger-specific 'Mobile Explorer' browser, which works similarly to other Windows products, will help them get round this problem.

Java operates a little differently, and splits computing jobs across network devices. The rationale for this is that a server, for example, processes intensive web services far faster than a handset. In addition to this, Sun is working on a project to speed up the JVMs (Java Virtual Machines), that translate Java programs into instructions for other computers.