May 8, 2007 5:35 PM PDT

Sun aims for ultracheap cell phones

SAN FRANCISCO--Call it Sun Microsystems' answer to One Laptop Per Child.

The server and software company hopes to sell a version of Java to phone companies that will bring network access to the world's computers, executives said here at the JavaOne trade show.

"Java will play a central role in bringing the Internet to the planet," Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz said during a news conference. "It will be the software to build the devices to bridge the digital divide." In a brief speech at the show, Schwartz indicated he believed the Java-powered mobile phones could be sold for $30 to $50 apiece.

JavaFX mobile

That's a notch cheaper than the $100 price the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative hopes to reach in 2008. OLPC began at the MIT Media Lab but now is a separate initiative to build easy-to-use, Linux-powered wirelessly networked devices.

Sun isn't building its own phone, Schwartz said. Instead, the company expects partnerships with manufacturers that will have the direct relationships with customers. "We're not there to disintermediate them from their audience," Schwartz said.

Key to the vision is JavaFX Mobile, based largely on technology Sun acquired when it purchased a small company called SavaJe in April. Sun has worked for years to develop Java as a technology that it licenses to others, but the JavaFX Mobile software is a product that the company will sell.

JavaFX Mobile is geared for small devices, but its Java interface is most similar to the Java Standard Edition (SE) software that runs on standard PCs, said James Gosling, often called the father of Java. However, the software also can run the host of Java applications that have been written for the prevailing incarnation of Java for mobile phones, called Mobile Internet Device Platform (MIDP). MIDP is based on the more compact Java Micro Edition (ME).

Jonathan Schwartz
Credit: Stephen Shankland
Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz

JavaFX Mobile will usher in a new, more direct phase of Sun's years-long attempt to profit from the millions of dollars it has invested in Java software since its public debut in 1995. Sun has arguably benefited indirectly from Java--for example, by holding Microsoft at bay in some domains, by keeping programmers interested in Sun, and by gaining an entree at customers that need to buy servers--but it's been companies such as IBM, Oracle and BEA Systems that have made the most money selling companies Java products to run software on servers.

Today, Sun licenses Java to mobile phone companies such as Motorola or Nokia, which get access to working "reference implementation" software and typically assemble their own collections of Java components.

But Sun expects to directly charge for JavaFX Mobile. It's realistic to expect phone makers to begin using it in the first half of 2008, said Rich Green, Sun's executive vice president of software.

Sun will ship phone manufacturers a pre-built "binary" that sidesteps some of the issues of compatibility that have dogged Java in mobile phones. Sun long has billed Java's advantage as "write once, run anywhere," but because phone makers enabled different modules of Java, software written for one phone might not run on another.

"JavaFX is a binary product. You can't have fragmentation if it's a binary implementation," Green said. "That business model saves time and energy on the part of licensees who don't have to spend time mucking with source code."

Sun showed JavaFX Mobile applications, including Yahoo Go for Mobile 2.0 Internet services, running on a mobile phone. The phone, a model from First International Computer, ran the JavaFX Mobile software on a stripped-down version of Linux, Gosling said.

Sun has been trying to bring today's unconnected billions onto the Internet for years, in part because it hopes to sell back-end equipment to the banks, governments and others who will provide Internet-based services.

To further this effort, Schwartz described an initiative he termed "engineers without borders" to try to marshal the energy of technologists to improve the lot of humanity.

"There's a lot of passion about people trying to bring technology to the developing world," Schwartz said.

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6 comments

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I'll bet they did
Year somone is trying to get through on my email and i the message is blocked. Oh well just one of many mysteries happening in my life.
ps NEVER GIVE IN
Also why would you call yourselves SUN.
Oh yes mobiles are better.
It just a shame noone knows hoow to make a decent global communicator version.
anyway year shift this story along due to me seeming to be beccomming of and imfamous blogger.
more like board so i type.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
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What on Earth?
Man, don't you know that crack kills?
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
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But what about monthly fees?
It's fine to have a cheap phone that can tap the internet, but what about the $100-per-month fees that the cell carriers charge? The article says sun is selling the technology to phone companies, but does not say anything about direct-to-internet access through wi-fi.
Posted by RLBrandt (6 comments )
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anti-privacy Sun wants to sell telephones!?
Why don't they just get a nice big sledge hammer and hit
themselves in the head. It would be equally productive.
Posted by BatmanG8 (74 comments )
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The original promise of Java
The whole point of Java was to keep it small and felxible in the beginning. Sure they developed a huge CLR around it now and that's great because it really competes with C++ but is that where we all really wanted to go as Java Developers? No.
We wanted a lightweight but powerful Internet language for websites to deploy quickly so hopefully JavaFX will do that and fulfill the original promise of Java.
basically Flash overtook Java in the late 90s and now hopefully Java will be allot more popular here.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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Java Plug-in for cell phones
Flash has its niche, but it will never compete with Java in the b2b or b2c arena. Flash is still more display oriented, and although I would agree it is certainly has surpassed Java for advanced graphics on the web, it is still noway near as important as Java as a back-end, connective language.

JavaFX seems to me just another repeat of the saga that played out in the late 90s that eventually lead to the Java Plug-in for IE and other browsers. At first, each browser had its own implementation of the Sun JVM, which lead to the same problems mentioned in the article. For all the hype, this seems like a natural evolutionary step that was bound to happen. However, I disagree with Sun's attempt to license this however. Maybe they're having regrets over not monetizing Java Plugin after the suit with Microsoft. I think keeping the JVM license free was key to it's survival.

Please read more at:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.omninews.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.omninews.com</a>
Posted by omninews (2 comments )
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