Sun Announces New Java-Based Mobile OS, Again Promises Write Once, Run Anywhere

A small company called SavaJe gathered some interest a few years ago when several big operators invested in it, supporting its development of a Java-based mobile operating system. It was widely believed that the operators were merely supporting SavaJe as a tool in their fight with handset vendors over handset customization. Once they won that fight, their interest in SavaJe waned, and the company went under last fall, and Sun bought its remaining assets. Today, Sun has announced JavaFX Mobile, a Linux- and Java-based operating system apparently based on the remnants of the SavaJe OS. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz says that JavaFX will fulfill the “write once, run anywhere” promise of Java — a promise that has gone wholly unfulfilled in the mobile arena, as each manufacturer has implemented Java Micro Edition in their handsets in a different way, creating a morass of incompatibility and fragmentation. Given that, it’s hard to accept his claim at face value. Sure, for devices using the JavaFX Mobile platform, there might be compatibility — but that’s akin to saying that “write once, run anywhere” holds true for Windows Mobile applications, since they’ll run anywhere, as long as that anywhere means a device running Windows Mobile.

There are so many technologies looking to reduce fragmentation in the mobile market — Flash Lite, Java ME, and so on — that have done very little to do actually do so. The biggest problem they face is that they ignore the billions of handsets already in the market, the vast majority of which can’t be easily updated to support new technologies. So when Adobe or Sun talks about reducing fragmentation by introducing some new technology, they’re already facing an uphill battle, since they must convince content and application developers to support technologies that are inaccessible to most of the market. With the abysmal track record of Java ME in this space, and the big unfulfilled promises it’s left behind, it’s easy to be skeptical about what Sun is saying. JavaFX might find some success as a cheap and easy alternative to proprietary operating systems from some vendors (particularly for making white-label devices for mobile operators), but its overall impact on the market doesn’t look like it will be too significant at this point.

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