Sun to sell Zaurus at JavaOne

This year's Java conference aims to highlight Sun's strategy for unifying the fragmented mobile world through software that can run on many operating systems. A big draw could be a discounted Zaurus Linux/Java PDA
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Sun Microsystems will be selling the long-awaited Zaurus SL-5500 Linux-based handheld computer at the JavaOne developer conference beginning on Monday in New York, as a publicity exercise and to raise awareness of the proliferation of Java in mobile devices.

The device, which will retail in the UK next month for about £450, will be on sale at the conference for $299 (about £209) with a Linksys 802.11b wireless LAN card, and will be used by developers to compete in several programming challenges. Sun will also be using the device, which comes with PersonalJava pre-installed, to promote its strategy to unify mobile devices like handhelds, smartphones and mainstream mobile phones with its Java software.

Last September, 22 companies -- including large mobile phone manufacturers -- finalised a version of Java designed for low-end, mainstream phones with low-powered processors and limited graphics. The result, the Java Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP), is set to make its way into millions of handsets this year from manufacturers like Siemens, Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola.

In the UK some devices already include MIDP, including the Motorola Accompli 008 and Siemens' SL45i. "We are now starting to see a big explosion of Java in phones," said Andrew Bush, new technologies manager for Sun in the UK.

Wireless carriers are hoping that Java will boost their bottom line by allowing users to download Java applets that customise their handsets in various ways, from games to personal information managers.

Sendo, which is making the first Microsoft Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 handset, the z100, insisted on including Java in its phone despite Microsoft's enmity with Sun, because of carrier demand. "Carriers see it as a way of offering custom applications and new services," said Ron Schaeffer, Sendo's head of product strategy and planning. "Many carriers say they want it. It has the potential to be very important."

Mobile operating system vendors like Palm, Microsoft and Symbian are trying to create relatively open operating systems for higher-end "smartphones", such as the z100 or Nokia Communicator, but J2ME allows standardised software to make its way even into the most basic handsets, without requiring a PDA-class processor or a colour screen.

For example, Sendo will be shipping several non-smartphone handsets this year with MIDP. "When you go into mainstream phones, every manufacturer has its own proprietary operating system," said Schaeffer. "Java running on that class of phone enables downloadable applications that would otherwise be very hard to develop for."

In time for JavaOne, developers recently made version 2.0 of the MIDP specification available for public review, adding security features, support for digital audio and improved user interface controls. Speed optimisations mean that MIDP 2.0 can offer "Sega Genesis-class" 2D games. Version 1.0 is still relatively slow, and can offer games of a similar complexity to those already built into many mobile phones. About 60 companies and people helped develop the new standard.

Standard Java programming interfaces for Bluetooth and multimedia have also recently become available for public review.

A major theme at JavaOne will be encouraging developers to create software -- for both consumers and businesses -- for the Java hardware that will soon become available. In that direction, Sun will release Forte for Java, Micro Edition, a free software development tool, and is also expected to launch a tool for adapting corporate applications to allow secure access from Java devices.

Performance has been one issue keeping Java out of wireless devices, but Sun says speed problems have been resolved with newer MIDP virtual machines, the software that interprets Java code to run on specific hardware. The company will also show a speeded-up virtual machine for Java Micro Edition (J2ME), the catch-all Java version that includes MIDP and other mobile Java versions like JavaPhone.

Sun says it will soon offer support for the Jazelle Java accelerator in processor cores from UK-based ARM. ARM cores are used in a large number of mobile phones, PDAs and other mobile devices.

So far, Java has seen its biggest deployment in Japan, where about 11 million Java handsets have been sold, out of a total of 18 million. However, mobile data services have not yet caught on as widely in Europe and the US.

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