This year's battle in the technology field resembles an election year people are choosing sides and leveraging their power. The big decision for developers will be selecting a protocol to build into their smart devices. Each camp has its pundits and its naysayers. Sun and Microsoft are deeply entrenched in the market. Both have too much at risk and are refusing to concede ground. This stalemate has placed developers right in the middle of the quandary. What protocol will emerge from this stubborn battle as the de facto standard? Who will produce the most widely accepted platform? Who has the resources to bring it to the mass market first and make it stick? What's tearing at the heart of this next big tech explosion will likely be the catalyst for the evolution. For now the market looks like a technology tug-of-war with the developers as the rope.
Consortiums are being established to outline the codes and specifications that will be used. Many of the larger companies are sharing seats on more than one committee simply to stay informed, or to sway the momentum of the market. Their persuasion is obviously self-serving; nonetheless their power is indisputable. Groups like OSGi (Open Service Gateway Initiative) resemble "arms dealers," arming their members for a good round of competition on a level playing field.
While maintaining a neutral tone, yet satisfying the individual interests among the members, Universal Plug and Play groups are establishing a strong user base, and secret society alliances are popping up everywhere.
Stuck in the middle of the mess are the developers who are feeling the heat from business developers. These developers see smart devices and the new revenue streams they represent as the eminent wave of new commerce in the new economy. For now, smart devices have found their place in industrial automation. Next, we'll see it in luxury automobiles, at least in those cars that can absorb the cost and size of the stealthlike boards in their componentry to create an Internet-on-wheels scenario, and eventually morphing into complete vehicle self-navigation without human intervention.
However, the real market-in-waiting is the residential gateway market of the post PCera, when devices will be controlled remotely, proactively and automatically through a central processing unit located just about anywhere. This is where the market expects to become a multibillion-dollar cash cow and the future of consumer electronic appliances. "They have said that it is expected to be the biggest explosion with the longest fuse," says George Reel, sales director for ProSyst. "We've been evangelizing and nurturing this market while we feed the high-end commercial and industrial uses first."
ProSyst is 100% Java and platform independent. Not entirely agnostic, ProSyst, a two-year-old company from Germany, maneuvered into embedded to capitalize on the expected turn in the market. ProSyst feels it has discovered the answer to the dilemma by being the first to introduce a working Jini into its embedded server, gradually customizing its product to satisfy the market. Though it's designed to be OSGi compliant, it also integrates Universal Plug and Play and is planning on successfully bridging the two protocols like an interpreter for the United Nations. ProSyst has remained ahead of the curve and successfully managed to predict and incorporate the changes into its embedded server. ProSyst's solution is "mBedded server," a small 60KB footprint that can sit on practically any JVM and enable it to sing. They've introduced WAP, HAVI, HTML and WML, and with its latest version they've teamed up to offer Directory Services. This is in response to the demand for the encrypted security of proprietary information over the Net and, perhaps more important, network management of these billion devices as they proliferate into the market.
So what does ProSyst have at stake in the battle for protocol dominance? Simply, everything. Like the different parts of the body, ProSyst's embedded server acts as the brain that drives, orchestrates and governs the different parts, allowing them to function in perfect synchronicity. The new gateway technology, with all the new revenue streams and services it represents, is too good and too promising to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. We believe the first one to hit the market and do it right will score, but it's a big world with lots of devices and a lot more to come. "There is room in the market for everyone," says George Reel. "I guess the message I'd like to send out is, Go ahead and start building your gateways. You don't have to hedge your bets that they will be covered."
Further movement to counterpunch the polarized protocol dilemma is mounting; it's finding a place with developers who need something now that can be easily implemented at little or no cost. To answer this call is the protocol Salutation. It's an open protocol with no royalties, and it provides service discovery and service management. It has strong support from the IBM and Bluetooth camps and is making a serious bid to fill the promises of other protocols that have not yet delivered the goods. It's posturing itself to be the Linux of protocols and is especially fitted for low-cost device applications. The embedded world is playing with it enough so it's quickly becoming one of the sharpest tools in the shed.
Silently, in backrooms and golf courses, deals are being penned to bring these capabilities to bear. Service channels are being developed and smart homes are cropping up everywhere. And, while no one owns a crystal ball, the writing is on the wall. Historically, it's during times like this, that a smaller, more agile player seizes the opportunity to capitalize on market uncertainty and devises a universal solution that slays the sleeping giants.
If ProSyst feels it has found the answer in being platform independent, others are still too politically motivated by the big names to act. So what's causing the indecisiveness? Perhaps they're still waiting for their other projects to be completed. Perhaps they don't feel the real world needs or is ready to pay for a computer in the refrigerator, or they're afraid of alienating the campus bully. Either way, it's safe to say that progress never sleeps and never retreats. The clash of the titans will rage on, and there's no way to address the unforeseen. It's just good to know that there are options and pioneers who believe that it's better to work together than defeat one another.
Keith Sciulli is the director of marketing and strategic operations at ProSyst. He holds two degrees in technical communications from Carnegie-Mellon University. [email protected]