Although Java never took off as a platform for running applications in a PC Web browser, startup Kada Systems Inc. is betting the technology will be much more successful on a wireless Palm device

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 5, 2001

4 Min Read

Although Java never took off as a platform for running applications in a PC Web browser, startup Kada Systems Inc. is betting the technology will be much more successful on a wireless Palm device. The Boston-based company, which received $5 million in first-round funding last September from JK&B Capital, Chicago, launches as a company next week with the release of its namesake, clean-room Java virtual machine and development tools.

The Kada virtual machine is built for running applications on wireless handheld devices. The first version of the product runs on the Palm operating system, with future versions planned for Epoc, embedded Linux, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Windows CE.

IDC analyst Michele Rosen says that targeting corporate developers improves Kada's chances for success, since concerns with reliability and security make Java questionable for consumer handheld devices. "I don't know that Java is going to necessarily be any more successful for consumer applications than it was on the PC, in terms of applets running in a browser," Rosen says.

However, businesses deploying sales-force applications on Palms are working within a more controlled environment, where developers know the type of device, the version of the Java virtual machine, and can build security into the application, the network, or wherever it makes sense for a particular system.

Kada's biggest challenge will be forming enough partnerships with bigger companies willing to embed its technology into their products, Rosen says. "They haven't announced any major partnerships or alliances yet, but I think that's going to be their key to success," she adds.

To garner enough partners, Evan Quinn, analyst for the Hurwitz Group Inc., says Kada will eventually have to join the Java Community Process, the industry organization formed by Java-creator Sun Microsystems that sets Java standards.

Kada developed all of its technology on its own, but claims its products are compatible with all Java standards.

"It's OK to have clean room, but over the long run, you can't completely break away," Quinn says.

Kada's strategy for attracting developers is to ride the coattails of database vendors in the wireless market. Although no partnerships have been announced, Jim Acquaviva, chief executive of Kada, says deals would be disclosed "in a matter of weeks" with Sybase Inc. and PointBase Inc. The company also claims to be working in the labs with Oracle.

Kada chose to build its own technology rather than license it from Sun because the company believed it could build a smaller and better-performing Java virtual machine and set of APIs for developing database-centric applications.

In targeting cellular phones and handhelds, the Java Community Process has removed database-focused capabilities from the Java 2 Micro Edition to reduce the footprint, Shekar Mantha, founder and chief technology officer for Kada, says. Kada has managed to keep those capabilities in its development platform.

The standard version of the Java virtual machine and the Kada APIs are 840 Kbytes. For simpler, nondatabase applications, a smaller Java virtual machine is available that shaves off 225 Kbytes.

Kada officials say the state of Louisiana has used the company's tools to build an application for a Palm device that enables workers to collect environmental data in the field and then transmit the data to a central server.

The Kada APIs support the Personal Java APIs, but don't support Java 2, including RMI, beans, and security packages. That support is scheduled for later releases.

The development kit can import code from a standards-based Java integrated development environment, package the code and Java classes in a zip file and deploy them on the Palm OS through its HotSync feature. The kit includes an optimization tool that can find and remove unused classes, methods, and fields in an application.

The Kada toolkit, including the Java virtual machine and APIs, sells for a base price of $295, with an annual subscription rate that includes technical support and upgrades available for an additional $600. A professional package that also includes a commercial deployment license for 100 devices on one OS sells for $3,995.

Related links:

Nextel to off Java-enabled Cell Phones, http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010402S0011

Wireless Goes Open Source, http://www.informationweek.com/816/innovation.htm

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