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Mobile platforms on collision course

Today there are a dizzying array of mobile platform choices, from Microsoft's .NET and Java, to niche frameworks offered by Pumatech Inc., Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions Inc., and others. But Jack Gold, a vice president with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, said that these opposing forces are about to collide. Gold says that, before long, the market will consist of only two camps: Microsoft and Java. The Java camp, which includes IBM and PalmSource Inc., will account for about 35% of the market, and Microsoft will have the rest.

What does his mean for your business and for your mobile decision making? asked Gold for the answers.

How long will it take for the shakeout to play out?
Both .NET and Compact Framework are around today, and people are using them. It will likely take two to three years for this stuff to get heavily ingrained. The Symbian operating system is widely used on smart phones. Where is that platform heading?
J2ME already runs on Symbian devices. It is more likely that someone working with those devices would migrate to a Java environment. In the interim, what should companies do?
If you have a problem, solve it. If it means using third-party middleware, then [use it for two or three years], but solve the problem now and get the payback. It makes sense to look at WebSphere and Java or .NET if you are going down one of those paths anyway.

For More Information

Check out our Topics on Microsoft's Compact Framework.

Read why there's no clear winner in .NET/J2EE security race.

 Are there any significant differences to consider between the two platforms, or is the end result the same?
The back end is the top consideration. If your applications are running on Microsoft, then .NET will integrate better. People argue that Java code is more efficient, but I'm not convinced that is a valid argument. But Java does work well across multiple platforms, and you get an openness that you don't get with Microsoft. Microsoft has no plan to support anything but its own end-user platform. What kinds of criteria should businesses use when choosing a mobile platform path?
You have to look at this from an ecosystem perspective. Look at developer support. Look at the back-end connections and what server-based applications you have to integrate with. Look at your own internal developer environment. If you run Visual Studio .NET, you'll be better off going with .NET. You should also look at your training and staff. You need to consider the entire ecosystem.

Ultimately the goal is to have a single platform that everyone can write to and work from, rather than having to buy middleware at all.
Jack Gold
vice presidentMeta Group

 You say that mobile apps will be split between .NET and Java. Why?
Whenever Microsoft does anything, people listen. Inevitably, .NET will be very important. On the other side, because of Oracle [Corp.], IBM and its WebSphere products, Java has a large installed base. Right now, there are plenty of other approaches as well. There are iAnywhere, Synchrologic [Inc.], Extended Systems [Inc.], a whole bunch of approaches. But as the market matures, it tends to coalesce around key platform vendors. It is like the competition between Windows and Mac. The same thing will happen in the mobile space. That way, developers won't have to write applications for 15 different platforms. In the end, the market moves toward standardized platforms. .NET is one of those massive -- and sometimes vague -- Microsoft initiatives. How does it apply to mobile platforms?
A small subset of .NET, called .NET Compact Framework, is designed to run on small devices with memory constraints. It is to .NET as Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) is to Java. Overall, .NET is Microsoft's next-generation framework that allows you to write applications that can run on virtually any Microsoft device. What are the implications for businesses?
When companies deploy mobile applications, the first thing they do is look for a mobile middleware platform so that they can write and run applications. Right now, that could be from any number of vendors. In the longer term, companies will just use what they have in place. If you are a .NET shop, then you will use the tools from Microsoft. If you are an IBM shop, then you will use Java. It's not perfect, and it will take time to get there. Ultimately, the goal is to have a single platform that everyone can write to and work from, rather than having to buy middleware at all.

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