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Microsoft Research Spin-Off Seeks To Better Mobile Browsing

Zumobi,aka ZenZui, aims to ease cross-platform mobile app development.

A spinoff of Microsoft Research today is set to unleash the first beta release of new software intended to make it easier to develop and run apps running on multiple mobile operating systems for handheld devices.

The software from Zumobi, until last month known as ZenZui, is designed to address some of the key shortcoming of mobile Web browsers -- that they are slow and difficult for most individuals to navigate. At the same time, Zumobi is promising that its software will ultimately support multiple mobile device platforms, allowing developers to build OS-independent mobile apps.

Zumobi's offering could be one of many that will define a new class of mobile application software just as the wireless network landscape is showing signs of opening up. As reported this month, Verizon Wireless has said it will open up its network to devices and application other than those sold and serviced by the carrier.

"Whether it's Android [Google's platform for mobile devices], Verizon or Nokia, we want to provide a simple solution for people to access the data," says Beth Goza, Zumobi's senior marketing manager.

The initial release will work on Microsoft's Windows Mobile (versions 5 and 6), and Zumobi is preparing a Java-based version that among other things will support Research In Motion's Blackberry platform. Zumobi seeks to allow developers and individuals to customize the interface on the device without regard to what the network provider and mobile OS offer.

Zumobi's software does that by letting developers build what the company calls "tiles" which are effectively personalized widgets that underlie multimedia content, Web sites, blogs, or personal information. Based on what Zumobi calls the Zooming User Interface, or ZUI, individuals can have customized "zoom spaces" that can accommodate various form factors and present content (saved in memory) even if a wireless network isn't available.

"These tiles can be programmed to do a variety of things, whether they are serving up simple RSS feeds from your favorite Web site to something a little more sophisticated like browsing, your Flickr photos," says Goza. To overcome the latency issues of typical mobile Web browsers, Zumobi's software also uses caching.That also allows for server-based synchronization to push content out to devices.

The company has developed a SDK will allow developers to develop tiles from their preferred tools. "Whether it's Notepad or Visual Studio, they can develop in the tool and language of their choice," Goza says. The company also has created its own language called ZZML, which specifies how the software handles server synchronization.

While the software is carrier independent, the content is served up via Zumobi's own servers. Yankee Group analyst Linda Barrabee, who has seen the software, says it's a step in the right direction but does not mean applications will become network independent overnight.

"We are still far way from this open access customizable scenarios," Barrabee says.

"But the software itself is focused on bringing to your phone easy access to Web based applications. The platform itself provides something that's customizable and can be personalized."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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