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Palm pushes Java PDA effort

Most developers love gadgets, especially the "wireless" kind. But developing software for these gadgets has remained the province of the few, the proud and the embedded -- pedal-to-the-metal developers that count themselves specialists in assembler, C and such. (Did anyone mention Forth?)

Java was supposed to change this by allowing higher-level abstraction and broader ranks of developers into the game. To date, Java originator Sun has aimed much of its embedded J2ME virtual machine effort at cell phone gadgets -- an effort that may be beginning to pay off. But there is a need to address the wide market of PDA gadgets with Java-class development tools, according to product managers at Palm.

Palm should know something about gadgets. The company has long been at the forefront of the PDA movement. We spoke recently with Chris Morgan, whose job it is to form alliances and build a developer community around Java and Palm PDAs. It is an effort about which developers should become aware.

"What Sun has done with Java has been so bloody cell phone-focused. Now it's time for J2ME to take on a bigger application role on a more powerful device," said Morgan, who is director, strategic alliances in the Palm Solutions Group.

In fact, Palm turned not to Sun but to IBM to obtain a Java virtual machine and tools. In June, IBM and the Palm Solutions Group announced that this Palm branch had licensed IBM WebSphere Micro Environment so that Java technology applications could run directly on Palm Tungsten handhelds.

In making the IBM selection, Palm had two criteria. "What mattered was how good the J2ME implementation is, and how big the [associated] developer community," said Morgan. "That tipped the scales to IBM."

Java has great promise here, he added. "The JVM is not being brought to market by the OS side [of Palm], but by the hardware side. The Palm OS is in C. To develop, you have to use Metrowerks; some people have 600 Java and VB developers, but no people that can write in the Palm OS. Java meets that need," he said.

Palm Inc. presently consists of two businesses -- PalmSource, a subsidiary responsible for developing and licensing the Palm OS operating system; and the Palm Solutions Group, a business unit responsible for designing, making and marketing its handheld devices. In June, the company announced its intention to buy Handspring Inc., which was founded several years ago by inventors of the original Palm PDA.

According to company reps, Palm has created a toolkit that should plug into most IDEs for creating Java-based apps for hot gadgets.


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About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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