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Mobile computing unplugged

Mobile computing is taking over the business landscape. Now, new developments in functionality are making the transition easier.

When rich British gentlemen embarked upon an African safari during the 19th century, they required dozens of native carriers to support them. Tents, guns, ammunition, a small wine collection, gourmet meals, porcelain plates, silver utensils and formal evening wear were just a few of the “essentials” that lumbered across the jungle during the hunt.

A similar phenomenon is happening today in the field of mobile computing. Wireless applications typically demand a large footprint at both the client and server sides, and utilize cumbersome middleware methodology to cobble everything together. To make matters worse, the mobile applications so created don’t deal well with mobility.

“Today’s software was not designed with the mobile user in mind,” says Chris S. Thomas, chief strategist at Intel Corp. “We can’t take the elevator up one floor without confusing our network connection and flummoxing our open applications.”

Survey any group of wireless users and they talk about the same old problems: network interruptions, download latency and timeouts are regarded as “the norm” by any laptop of PDA user on the move. It’s even IT policy in many organizations for users to shut down their email clients before changing locations.

Current mobile computing environments suffer from recurring problems. Intermittent connections, high latency (the time that elapses between asking for a page and receiving it) and program incompatibility, to name a few of the more pressing challenges, seriously dampen the mobile experience.

In answer to such issues, Intel has laid out its Occasionally Connected Computing (OCC) Initiative. OCC comprises three levels of functionality, each of which delivers a satisfying user experience, but with varying levels of sophistication:

Level 1: Online/offline client functionality–this offers the ability to get work done even when you are not online. Level 2: Intelligent online/offline client functionality – this offers seamless connectivity without the user having to be concerned about the state of connectivity. Level 3: Applications work together asynchronously – this offers integrated, event-driven applications that are designed to be fully responsive to the state of connectivity, and which exploit it to create compelling mobility applications.

The best of the current crop of wireless applications barely attain Level 1. And generally, they achieve it in a heavy handed manner i.e. the server side is loaded up with bulky applications and a tangle of middleware laying to facilitate interconnection, and the client-side footprint imposes a burden on the side.

This is brought about by the methods utilized to develop wireless middleware. Custom development is often the choice of application vendors who are seeking to provide wireless access to back-end applications. This route is labor intensive as it involved implementing a custom protocol and messaging on a variety of client devices and server platforms. It also assumes in-depth integration with server-side applications to propagate its application clients.

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP): While WAP involves no client programming, its drawback is that it requires a separate Website be maintained and that a bridge is developed between the original application and the WAP server to translate its API into WAP.

Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME): J2ME is a version of Java for small devices such as PDAs and consumer appliances. However, J2ME introduces another layer into the equation that lowers speed, eats up memory, and adds cost.

NetZyme Enterprise Wireless: These and other wireless challenges are solved by NetZyme Enterprise Wireless, an enterprise application platform that enables mobility without the “baggage” of traditional middleware. NetZyme is particularly appealing to integrators and ISVs who need to create mobile applications rapidly.

“Compared to other approaches to wireless development, NetZyme reduces the time required by about 80 percent,” said Jacob Dreyband, CEO of Creative Science Systems, the maker of NetZyme Enterprise Wireless. “It is an extremely cost efficient way for integrators and ISVs to produce mobile applications that satisfy the requirements of today’s on the move workforce.”

NetZyme Enterprise Wireless is an alternative that doesn’t require altering existing applications or limiting access to back-office API’s. It does this by automatically generating code for clients across any platform via any protocol that encapsulates the communication layer. Devices such as PDAs, cell phones, laptops and PCs can dynamically access the application functionality without noticeable latency.

“NetZyme enables mobile applications to qualifies as OCC Level 3 or higher,” said Dreyband. “It offers asynchronous connectivity–two events going on simultaneously–rather than the traditional publish/view model.”

Unlike other middleware products that require the installation of massive programs and databases, NetZyme Enterprise Wireless absorbs less than 1 MB of space on the server side (the client side is about 150k). It provides complete interoperability between all versions of Java and ANSI C languages. This means any-to-any connectivity–any data, any language, any platform, any protocol, and any device. It can also be operated on any version of Windows, popular flavors of UNIX and Linux as well as all other platforms supporting Java for the server or client side and wide variety of mobile platforms.

NetZyme offers platform independent, enterprise-grade, wireless integration middleware that fully supports a wide range of platforms. This has recently been expanded to include Mac OS 10 (both in Java and C/C++), Qualcomm’s complete BREW system, UMB (Universal Messaging Bus), Web services, SSL/TLS, Palm OS, Microsoft Pocket PC and other PDA platforms. It includes IDE/GUI for rapid development and it can be used to design and manage any .NET application. Its Universal Messaging Bus addresses scalability and compatibility problems between current middleware and messaging solutions.

NetZyme Enterprise Wireless reduces integration effort with non-intrusive transformation of aging system-dependent programs into distributed applications. In spite of its extremely small footprint, NetZyme maintains large load capacity per CPU. It is capable of very fast client-server roundtrip through the database and has rapid developer learning curve.

By next year, there will be over 47 million laptops with over 140,000 public hotspots. 65 percent of the workforce will be mobile. The functionality of those wireless devices, however, is largely in the hands of developers and the methods they use. Will their creations be weighed down by baggage like a British Safari hunter, or will they have the agility and effectiveness of a Navy Seal?

“Without developers to lead the mobile revolution, we might as well plug everything back in and forget about working on the beach,” said Intel’s Thomas. “Developers must be challenged to develop software that is intelligent enough to interpret changes in the environment well beyond the capacity of the traditional terminal-host environment.”

Drew Robb is a freelance technology journalist.

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