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JavaOne: Developers voice cautionover wireless apps

Vendors at the JavaOne developer conference were excited at the concept of building a class of Java applications that can be delivered by wireless to mobile phones and handheld computing devices.

However, developers at the conference were less enthusiastic. "Hype always rules first," said Shawn McKenna, a software engineer with Synovation, which makes software for county criminal justice systems.

"There's been a lot of talk about wireless here. Wireless may be the future, but right now it's just hype."

Major telecommunication carriers, including Sprint PCS Group and Nextel Communications, have generated their share of hype.

Sprint delivered its latest set of tools for Java developers to begin building applications that would be delivered to mobile phones over the Sprint PCS 3G network, which is set to launch in the US around June.

Despite the push from carriers, with an initial focus on the development of consumer applications such as video games, enterprise developers attending JavaOne admitted they were cautious about enabling their corporate applications to be accessed over wireless networks.

Martin Hanf, managing director of Finance Online, a banking software consulting company in Zurich, said he has a number of concerns about the state of Java-based wireless technology that holds him back from recommending such technology to his customers, which include banks and insurance companies.

"Some of our customers have an interest in wireless, but I can't say the level of security is ready," Hanf said. "How do you prevent your data from getting in the wrong hands?"

The Java specifications enabling developers to build applications delivered over wireless networks to Java-enabled devices lack in security, some developers said.

One sign that additional security support is needed is clear in the announcement from Sprint PCS regarding the new version of its wireless toolkit released here. The company has included its own set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in its tools that add additional security protocols for building wireless applications.

Cost was another concern.

"Because of budget issues we're not doing any wireless development," said Ashish Ahuja, a senior application architect for Kemper Insurance in the US.

"If we can convince our customers that it will help in the field - for instance, allow claims adjusters to access data on a handheld - then we'll do it."

Simmule Turner, director of product development with finance software maker BancTec in Dallas, has been intrigued by the wealth of wireless talk in the developer community, but has yet to see it trickle down to the customers who would end up using the technology.

Some ideas BancTec has considered include allowing engineers who monitor large banking systems or manage data to have information transmitted to wireless devices, rather than being stuck behind a desktop PC all day all day, Turner said.

"The problem is we have to first show a bank that they're going to get some kind of benefit from their investment," he said.

Research In Motion, which announced support for Java on its BlackBerry device at JavaOne earlier this week, is keen to see a return on investment.

With nearly 13,000 corporate customers using BlackBerry devices inside the corporate firewall to access e-mail and send text messages, RIM chief executive officer Jim Balsillie said the promise of Java on small devices would only make it more enticing for the enterprise.

"We're drinking water from a firehose of opportunity," Balsillie said.

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