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Brad Shimmin
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Shimmin On Software: Sun Targets Consumers To Reach Businesses

Sun's consumer-first marketing with its JavaFXMobile platform helps show how technology enters businesses not from the boardroom but from behind the front lines. IM, anyone?

Back in the late 1930s, a British mathematician named Alan Turing postulated that the advent of digital computers would give rise to something he called "universal machines." Unlike existing computers of that time which could only carry out a limited number of predefined functions, a digital computer, for Turing, could mimic any machine, could in essence become anything and do anything, regardless of physical form.

Modern PCs in this way are universal machines; but with few exceptions, mobile devices are not. They make calls. They receive calls. Some contain small, diminished universal machines, compared with PCs. But even those are cut off from their more capable counterparts by a number of development chasms. Sun Microsystems wants to change that.

At JavaOne, the still relatively engineering-focused company (now led by a ponytail-sporting Jonathan Schwartz) made a series of announcements unveiling a new line of mobile technologies, headed by JavaFX Mobile, a mobile runtime platform, and yet another scripting language, called JavaFX Script.

JavaFX Mobile will be OEM'd to device manufacturers and JavaFX script will be offered for free to anyone interested in quickly building Rich Internet Applications that can run on any Java platform, such as a JavaFX Mobile-based mobile device or perhaps even a company PC.

This may sound eerily familiar. Indeed, Sun itself has pushed this notion of a universal Java platform able to run on any device from the beginning. Remember the Java set-top box anachronism? Now, however, Sun has targeted phones, PDAs, feature phones, and, you guessed it, set-top boxes, all of which currently outsell PCs 20 to one worldwide.

JavaFX Mobile will level the playing field for device manufacturers, abstracting away proprietary runtime environments, which will in turn spark a broader ecosystem of development efforts for those platforms.

Of course, the drawback for the mobile device market is that the more universal these machines become, the less likely customers are to toss their existing devices in favor of newer machines sporting shiny new technologies. Hardware limitations aside, a JavaFX Mobile phone need only be reprogrammed to express a new capability -- adding presence services to an existing GPS-capable phone, for example.

This sounds like the rebirth of Sun's almost forgotten mantra, "write once, run anywhere." And only time will tell if this gambit will pay off, turning Sun into the next Apple within the consumer market.

This sounds like the rebirth of Sun's almost forgotten mantra, "write once, run anywhere." And only time will tell if this gambit will pay off, turning Sun into the next Apple within the consumer market.

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