Write Once, Run Nowhere?

One size does not fit all. Developers are finding out the hard way that the Java credo of "write once, run anywhere" doesn't work in the mobile world. Proprietary extensions added to the standard by carriers and handset manufacturers, as well as the wide variety of screen sizes and keyboard formats that need to be supported, have veritably nixed some of Java's much-touted portability and reuse benefits.

The need to rework applications for each handset is especially vexing for games developers, because carriers want mobile Java (J2ME) games -- which are seen as a major source of potential revenue -- to look good on each handset they offer. However, for the developer, this could involve reworking their initial game many, many times.

"It’s the dirty little secret of Java development," one industry source who did not want to be named told Unstrung.

Mitch Lasky, CEO of games developer Jamdat Mobile Inc. says that it is generally possible to develop content for the same "family" of phones -- so apps will run across the Nokia Corp.'s (NYSE: NOK) range of J2ME-compatible handsets, for instance. But try to port the same game to something like a Samsung Electronics mobile and you'll run into difficulties.

Sadly, there seems to be no solution in sight. Indeed, games and entertainment companies seem resigned to continuing down the Java path, even if one size doesn't fit, because, for the foreseeable future, that is where the money will be made in digital entertainment offerings.

Meantime, the content providers blame the carriers and the handset makers for this splintering of Java. "Each of the carriers have insisted on their own extensions to Java," Lasky says.

Handset vendors are also having their own little way with J2ME. "For instance, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) has its own version of Java," says the anonymous source quoted above.

We called Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS), a leading proponent of J2ME in the U.S., about its implementation of J2ME. Unfortunately, the company was unable to find anyone that could answer our questions by press time.

Could the answer be stricter enforcement of Java standards or an extension of the multimedia profile by Java provider Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)? Sun was unable to find anyone that could address these issues in time for this story.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
h 12/4/2012 | 9:48:47 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? Is this story so urgent that it had to be published without getting response from Sun or Sprint PCS...
u article is mostly useless to a great extent if u don't have the patience to wait and publish a complete article !!

following this style, u would perhaps write any crap on any subject without either getting what the vendors have to say and just by adding your own "unnamed" source.
spc_King 12/4/2012 | 9:48:46 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? oooouuuhh!!! Hit a nerve did they :-)
vincek 12/4/2012 | 9:48:43 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? I was at the Sprint PCS ADP 2002 in Vegas. The answer you are looking for is that their Java extensions are proprietary to their devices.

What else is proprietary is their network interface API's. Very disappointing to all application developers. One small step forward and 10 steps backwards.

Sprint would have to pay me a lot of money to port my application onto their network.
Doctorw 12/4/2012 | 9:48:24 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? Only probem with that is matey...is that the story is mostly accurate!!!!!
standardsarefun 12/4/2012 | 9:48:22 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? There is actually at least three sides to this (and many similar) stories:

1. How can you get vendors and operators to stick to standards?
If this is an issue then what you need is for operators to refuse to buy from vendors that "add in extra bits" and likewise, vendor to refuse to develop according to operator's extensions? Do you honestly think this would happen?

2. How can you get application developers to stick to standards?
Fora like MGIF and OMA are spending lots of time designing APIs that are more and more platform independent. But this comes at a cost - the games are going to be harder to develop and test and they are going to be bigger blocks of code. Once good games APIs are agreed will developers want to stick to the API's limits?

3. Write once and port lots
After years of web site development, everyone now seems to be settled on the supporting at least Netscape and IE browsers with many of the differences hidden by the composing tools and the web server detecting which browser it is talking to. Is this the future for mobile games? In which case how many platforms will we need to support (Nokia, Openwave and who else?)

Love to hear your thoughts...
[email protected] 12/4/2012 | 9:44:40 PM
re: Write Once, Run Nowhere? Is this true about Sprint only or do all carriers plan to have Java extensions that work for them only. I can see the network APIs being proprietary, but am surprised that Java extensions for devices are also proprietary.
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