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Eclipse Launches Effort To Define Standard Mobile Dev Tools

A newly formed working group hosted by the Eclipse Foundation today launched an industry initiative called Pulsar aimed at creating a standard mobile application development tools platform based on the open source Eclipse framework.

Founded by Motorola, Nokia and Genuitec, the Pulsar working group also includes IBM, Research In Motion (RIM) and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.

The initiative aims to define a common set of Eclipse-based tools in a packaged distribution designed to interoperate with the software development kits (SDKs) provided by the leading handset makers. The goal is to enable mobile application developers to work within a single, familiar development environment that allows them to target multiple device families, according to Dino Brusco, senior director of Motorola's Developer Platforms and Services group,

"Mobile developers live in a fragmented world," Brusco said. "If they want to create an application for a mobile handset, they must first go to each individual handset OEM's Web site to use their application development tools. As a developer, you're faced with all these different development environments and approaches. And that's one of the barriers keeping developers who have traditionally developed for the desktop and the Web from moving to the mobile space."

The Pulsar initiative will focus first on creating a packaged distribution called the Eclipse Pulsar Platform. "Imagine a day when an application developer can download the Pulsar platform and use one common environment regardless of the mobile handset they're targeting," Brusco said. "This initiative is about providing that one, common development tools environment."

The working group also plans to release a technical roadmap defining how it will advance the platform. They're already offering several signs on that map, including planned support for most of the major mobile development environments, such as Java ME, mobile Web technologies, and native mobile platforms. The group also expects to develop a set of best practices, documentation, test suites and a program of education and outreach designed to drive Pulsar adoption among mobile application developers. 

The group has not recruited other participants but is only open to the Eclipse Foundation membership. Apple and Microsoft are not members of Eclipse. Outreach to other Eclipse members, including Google, is possible in the future, according to Brusco.

Among the benefits the working group hopes to provide with a common development platform are lower switching costs for existing mobile developers who want to move their apps from one manufacturer's family of handsets to another; a lower barrier to entry for developers new to the mobile space; and a chance for the handset OEMs to stop wasting their resources on dev tools.

"Each of us provides these development tools to our application developers, and there's a lot of redundant engineering investment there," Brusco said. "We're reinventing the wheel for the base application development platform, and we've gotten together and recognized that that's not where we need to compete at that level. We want a common app development platform for these developers, because it will allow us to invest our energy in different ion for each of our handsets."

The working group is a collaboration among competitors aimed at solving a common problem, said Alan Brenner, senior vice president of the BlackBerry platform group.  "This is a perfect place to cooperate," Brenner said. "And keep in mind that we're not starting this thing from zero. We're building on what Eclipse has already done. Pulsar is a perfect extension of the momentum we already have."

Last week, RIM released a new tools package with new versions of the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (BlackBerry JDE), which includes a new BlackBerry JDE plug-in for Eclipse. "We're in the game already," Brenner said. "And we see Pulsar as a way of doubling down on that investment."

The working group is aiming to deliver the first release of the Pulsar Platform with the Eclipse Foundation's annual product release train, code-named Galileo, in June.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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